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Fostering faith beyond Sunday school

By on Feb 21, 2017 in The World Together | 1 comment

Nurturing and building Christian foundations is paramount for being able to create a long-lasting successful spiritual walk once a child hits adulthood. Yet too many parents fail to see the importance of fostering these building blocks at home and instead relegate them to an hour on a Sunday morning, making Christian education the sole responsibility of a dedicated Sunday school teacher or a trained children’s pastor. While I do value my role in children’s ministry and believe it is of utmost importance, I want to let you all in on a little secret: I can’t do it with my team alone. And I definitely can’t do it just as one person, even if I do have two theological degrees with a third on the way.

Let me explain an average children’s event for you: On a Tuesday evening approximately 30 kids, wild, excited and full of energy, walk into the basement of our church. They are a lively bunch, inquisitive and eager to learn — yet they are still kids. And because they are kids, it takes them a minute or two or sometimes 10 to be able to calm down. And once they do calm down, their attention span lasts approximately 15 minutes and then we have to move on to the next thing.

In this group of kids, we have a mixed bag. Some kids are being properly nourished at home (physically, emotionally and spiritually) and others are in the midst of a painful home life. Some of the kids grew up in church and others are just hearing about Jonah and the whale or Noah’s ark for the first time. Some kids have already committed their lives to Jesus and others aren’t even really sure who Jesus is. And then there’s the age range, the different learning styles, preferences and personalities each person brings to the group, and the different attitudes parents have as their drop their children off. And my goal (along with my wonderful team) is to find a way to reach each one of them. To find a way to challenge the church kids and encourage the un-churched kids. To find a level playing ground and a story that can relate to 5-year-olds and 10-year-olds without the little ones being lost and the older ones feeling like they are being talked down to or ignored.

We run through the evening. We start with a catchy song or two, move on to a craft, do a game and tell a Bible story. But when you factor in the movement time, getting kids quiet enough to listen, troubleshooting what to do about the fact that half the glue sticks you just bought yesterday no longer work, and wiping up juice spills, I’d say that in an hourlong program I really only have 10 minutes maximum to instill any Godly wisdom into your kids. And while there definitely is something to be said about the ministry of presence and reaching out to kids through fun, the fact is that 10 minutes really is not all that long if that’s the only spiritual instruction they will be getting all week.

But let’s say you not only drop your kids off at a midweek program, but you also have them in Sunday school while you are upstairs listening to a sermon. That’s great, but the average Sunday school still only has about 20-30 minutes maximum of religious instruction for your kids. Which means if the mid-week program and Sunday school are the only opportunities they have to hear the Word of God, we are still averaging less than one hour a week. And when you think about all the other voices that are contending with the Gospel (be they advertisements, schooling, media or friends), one hour a week is definitely not enough time to undue any negative belief structures imposed on your child’s young and impressionable mind. This means that the primary task of raising godly children must belong to you, the parent — not left for a Sunday school teacher to pick up the pieces.

So, if you are convinced you play a pivotal role in your children’s spiritual development, but are unsure where to begin, let me give you some easy suggestions. You see, you don’t have to be a theologian or even invest an hour a day to make a lasting spiritual impact in your kids’ life. In fact, even if you only dedicate 15-20 minutes a day, you can help show them what is truly important in life.

The long ride home

If you are like most churchgoers, I’m sure there are things you don’t like about your home church. Yet, I would encourage not to complain about them in front of your children. Perhaps you can discuss them when the kids are asleep or when the grandparents are babysitting, but your kids look up to you, and if they see you criticizing the pastor or the church, they are most often going to do likewise. So during the ride home, ask the kids about Sunday school and what they learned or even tell them something interesting from the “grown-up” church if they ask, but refrain from critiquing the sermon or mentioning that anything was “boring” or “a waste of time.” Most kids are too young to understand complex theological concepts, so don’t get into a debate with your spouse about all the things the pastor said that might be wrong, but instead focus on what was shared that you really resonated with.

Teaching kids to pray

Fun prayers with silly actions have their place (at a church camp), but at some point, kids also need to learn how to really pray. It is easy to give into the temptation to do a rote prayer such as “God is great and God is good, let us thank him for our food, Amen” and there is an argument that they engage kids by their simplicity and being easy to remember, but I urge you not to let that be the sole extent of teaching your kids to talk to God. Instead, find different ways to help your kid pray. Don’t correct a child’s prayer (unless he is being incredibly silly), and when you pray, demonstrate a prayerful and thoughtful posture because kids will pick up on genuineness. Don’t allow silliness or jostling during prayer and don’t rush through it if the kids are getting restless. Instead, teach the kids that praying is the most important activity of all.

Because kids pick up on authenticity, it is important to be consistent in your prayer life. This means that even if you go out to eat at a restaurant, you need to keep your prayer posture. Don’t look around to see who is listening in or noticing because your kids will pick that up and make a connection that prayer is “uncool.” Follow the same procedures regardless of where you might be.

Find your children’s natural interests and run with them

Use your children’s natural talents and interests as a gateway to talk about Godly things with them. If they are artistically inclined, what a great opportunity to discuss how God is a wonderful artists who paints sunsets and sunrises. If they love playing with Lego, use it to illustrate how God is the master designer. If they are athletic and enjoy team games, talk about how God created our bodies to run and jump. If they are naturally extroverted, share how God is the expert relationship builder and formed us for community. And if they are more introverted, share about how they can begin to hear God in the silence. There are so many ways to bring out spiritual conversations in day-to-day life, and not all of them require a Bible.

Comfort your children using biblical truths

When your kids are struggling with insecurities, and they most definitely will, instill in them that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God knows and sees them for who they are and takes pride and delight in them. The Bible tells us that God rejoices over them with singing and jubilation. If they come back after having lost a game or feeling like a failure, remind them that God sees our hearts and motivation and is just thankful that we tried to do the right thing and gave it our all. And if their friends abandon them or leave them out, help them to find comfort in the fact that even Jesus’s closest friends forgot about him when he needed them the most, but that God’s Word promises that he will never leave us or forsake us.

Never use (or withhold) godly activities as punishment

This may almost seem like a no-brainer to you, but you’d be surprised at the many times I have seen parents use the Bible or withhold Christian activities as a means of punishment and discipline. Two of the most common examples of this would be making your child repetitively write out a Scripture verse speaking about why what she did was wrong and revoking his opportunity to go to a Christian club he enjoys. It seems almost natural that when you have tried everything to get a child to stop his behavior and he refuses, you revoke an activity he wishes to be part of. And oftentimes, because church is free and other classes might not be, church seems the logical one to get rid of. However, I believe this may very well be the most spiritually destructive thing you can do to your kid.

Church is already seen as being an “uncool” activity. Our culture already pressures kids and teens to think that belief in God is ludicrous and childish. Kids are already at a great risk of eventually losing their faith, and statistically we have seen more and more kids drop out of church once they reach university age (if not before). Therefore, we must do everything in our power to encourage church attendance and help our kids view it as a positive choice rather than as a negative one. If you want to make a point and take away a privilege, take away the TV, the internet, their smartphone, their time with friends — anything except your mid-week Bible club. And if you want your kids to write lines as punishment, do the stereotypical “I will not tell lies” and resist taking Bible verses out of context. This will help your kids know that you are serious but also help them realize that skipping church is not an option in your books.

Raising your children to be spiritual leaders is not an easy task, and some days you might be tempted to compromise because you feel tired and worn out, but it is during those very times when you want to quit that you may actually be having the greatest spiritual impact in your child’s life. Your kids look up to you. They need to see how much of a priority the Gospel is to you in order for them to begin to apply it to their lives. You wouldn’t skip feeding your kids dinner just because you were overwhelmed, so don’t skip out sharing Biblical truths with them either.

When I was a child I did not have regular “devotional” times with my family. Not that there would be anything wrong with that, but we were not huddled around a Bible reading the book of John and deconstructing it. But today I still have a strong faith and belief in God, attend church every Sunday and am even a pastor. Even though we didn’t have these formal times, my parents were instilling Biblical truths into me informally at every opportunity they could. That’s why as an adult, I can still have meaningful and deep spiritual conversations with them and refer to them as my “favorite lay theologians.”

Almost every child sees her parents as her greatest heroes. So use that opportunity rather than taking advantage of it. At every juncture, find a way to share your faith with your child even if it’s as simple as going for a walk in the park, watching a sunset together or participating in a simple service project. The more opportunities you have to develop faith at home, the more well-rounded your children’s understanding of God will be and the more likely it will be that they develop into strong Christian leaders of their own homes one day. May God bless you on your journey of fostering and creating these deep spiritual links with your own children and family.

Deborah-Ruth Ferber is a children’s pastor at Trulls Road Free Methodist Church in Courtice, Ont., and a field associate for the Anabaptist Disabilities Network. She writes at Zwiebach and Peace, where this post first appeared.

Remembering a faith journey of 500 years

By and on Feb 20, 2017 in Featured, Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

AUGSBURG, Germany — A Mennonite World Conference event looking forward to the 500th anniversary of Anabaptism looked back on the movement’s foundation in the primacy of Scripture.

Regional Anabaptists and leaders from around the world gathered Feb. 12 for “Transformed by the Word: Reading Scripture in Anabaptist Perspectives,” the first in a 10-year series of events called Renewal 2027. Organized by MWC, the series commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition with appreciation and critical reflection on what is now a global Christian movement.

From left, Young AnaBaptists Jantine Huisman of the Netherlands, Makadunyiswe Ngulube of Zimbabwe, Larissa Swartz of the United States, Mennonite World Conference staff member Nelson Martinez and YABs member Ebenezer Mondez of the Philippines listen at the first event of Renewal 2027 in Augsburg, Germany. — Harry Unger/MWC

From left, Young AnaBaptists Jantine Huisman of the Netherlands, Makadunyiswe Ngulube of Zimbabwe, Larissa Swartz of the United States, Mennonite World Conference staff member Nelson Martinez and YABs member Ebenezer Mondez of the Philippines listen at the first event of Renewal 2027 in Augsburg, Germany. — Harry Unger/MWC

From their beginnings, based on their understanding of the Bible, Anabaptists emphasized a personal commitment to following Christ, baptism upon a free confession of faith, a collective approach to reading and interpreting Scripture, a commitment to reconciliation and love of enemy and a rejection of the state church, said Alfred Neufeld of Paraguay, chair of the MWC Faith and Life Commission.

As the 500th anniversary approaches, “What should be reconsidered or reformulated? Where are the gaps in our theology and practice?” Neufeld asked.

The full-day event was interspersed with exhortations from representatives of the MWC family, singing and a participatory Bible study on reaching agreement on controversial subjects, based on Acts 15:1-21.

Anabaptism is needed now as much as ever before, said Valerie Rempel, a professor at Fresno (Calif.) Pacific Biblical Seminary. She called for “radical Bible reading in the spirit of the early Anabaptists . . . [and re-engagement] with God’s Word and with our own theological tradition to see how it can offer us wisdom for living as Christians in our world and for engaging in mission that invites all people.”

Maka­dunyiswe Ngulube of Zimbabwe and other members of the Young AnaBaptists committee spoke, reflecting on Matt. 28:19. They highlighted personal responsibility to learn, go and share as followers of Christ.

“There is no segregation when it comes to the message of Christ,” Maka­dun­y­iswe said.

Ebenezer Mondez of the Philippines said: “We need a culture that emphasizes discipleship as a responsibility for every believer of Christ . . . [drawn from] our deep understanding and full experience of his power and grace.”

Ecumenical guests spoke about reading Scripture across confessions. Renewal can come from when we read the Bible as individuals, but it is even more powerful when reading Scripture together, said Lutheran Fried­erike Nuessel of Germany. Nuessel and Catholic Augusto-Castro of Colombia were representatives in the just-completed trilateral dialogue between Mennonites, Catholics and Lutherans.

Worship, fellowship, witness and service in the Anabaptist tradition turn reading Scripture into a living faith, said Young Ana­Baptists mentor Tigist Gelagle of Ethiopia.

“The way of the cross is the basic teaching that inspires me about the future of the church,” she said. The truth that inspired early Anabaptists to martyrdom is the key for following Jesus today: “The suffering of Christ is the central theme of the gospel.”

Doris Hege, chair of Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Gemeiden, was reminded Scripture is a living word.

“We need to read it as if for the first time in our current context,” she said. “What new things can God speak to us?”

John D. Roth, director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at Goshen (Ind.) College, was the primary coordinator of the event, with help from Jantine Huisman and Henk Stenvers of the Netherlands and Rainer Burkart of Germany.

The next Renewal 2027 event will be April 2018 in Kenya, on the theme of the Holy Spirit.

Allegheny Conference to license LGBT pastor

By on Feb 20, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 17 comments

Allegheny Mennonite Conference on Feb. 15 announced it will license for ministry a Maryland pastor who “is a member of the LGBTQ community and married to her partner.”

The conference approved a request to license toward ordination Michelle Burkholder, associate pastor of Hyatts­ville Mennonite Church.

Michelle Burkholder is associate pastor of Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church. — Markus Kristeya

Michelle Burkholder is associate pastor of Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church. — Markus Kristeya

Burkholder becomes the third openly LGBT pastor credentialed for ministry in Mennonite Church USA, after Theda Good of Denver in 2014 and Mark Rupp of Columbus, Ohio, in 2015. In December, Good was the first to be ordained.

Allegheny Conference “recognizes that approval of this request for credentialing places our conference of congregations at variance with Mennonite Church USA membership guidelines,” stated a news release from the conference office and conference minister David E. Mishler.

“We welcome dialogue and counsel from sister conferences and MC USA about our decision in the spirit of mutual discernment, forbearing with each other in the spirit of Romans 14-15.”

The release cited a 2015 Allegheny Conference decision “to live together with theological disagreements using the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective as a guiding document, not a disciplinary document.”

The release continued: “[W]e believe congregational autonomy to discern and choose congregational leaders from the context of the congregation should be affirmed as appropriate congregational authority.”

That belief, the release said, “is in the spirit of” the conference’s 2015 decision and two resolutions passed by MC USA delegates at Kansas City in 2015 “in which we see an intentional tension between a vision of forbearance among diverse congregations and application of membership guidelines that have remained constant.”

The release said the decision was made “with deep humility . . . in support of [Hyattsville Mennonite Church] yet not intending to impose one congregation’s decision on other congregations who see things differently.”

Hyattsville has a long history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion. Last June it celebrated 30 years of welcoming LGBT people.

Burkholder, who has served the congregation since 2013, said in a sermon at the celebration: “Hyattsville has time and again chosen that, for us, being faithful witnesses to the love of God calls us to acts of hospitality, justice, healing and peacemaking, even when those actions are counter to the status quo expected by the broader church.”

For 10 years beginning in 2005, Hyattsville was under discipline by Allegheny Conference. Its representatives could not vote at conference meetings or serve in leadership positions. In 2015, by a 72-70 vote, delegates restored the congregation to full, voting membership.

Conference shrinks when members don’t recommit

By and on Feb 20, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 2 comments

Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference parted ways with nearly a quarter of its congregations at its annual meeting Feb. 11 in Pasa­dena, Calif.

A restructuring process that began a year and a half ago led to a request by leadership for members to “recommit” to the conference and Anabaptist identity.

Conference minister Clare Ann Ruth-Heffelbower said Pacific Southwest had overextended itself to care for a conference that wasn’t as big as people thought.

“We have a number of congregations that have not participated at all for years,” she said, noting a handful were attended by people who didn’t even know they were in Mennonite churches.

The Pacific Southwest board began the recommitment process in September, requesting documents such as contact information, organizational documents, financial statements and a letter requesting membership and affirmation of Anabaptist values.

The board also asked for membership lists to report to Mennonite Church USA and to determine how many delegates each church receives.

Twenty-six congregations recommitted by the Feb. 11 deadline and eight did not, though some may still rejoin.

Almost all the congregations that did not reapply for membership are majority nonwhite.

“For a time it looked good to bring in as many ethnic minority congregations as we could. That’s what the kingdom’s supposed to look like,” Ruth-Heffelbower said. “I think as that was happening, they weren’t all coming in to be Anabaptists, but it was a place to belong and they joined the conference.

“While we made efforts to have pastors go through classes for ordination processes, I think some of them didn’t fully buy into Anabaptist understandings and didn’t pursue licensing or let licenses expire. One pastor said, ‘I don’t want to be credentialed by you.’ ”

She thinks Pacific Southwest is the only conference that has taken such an approach.

“But I’ve talked to other conference leaders who’ve said, ‘We need to do this,’ ” she said. “Indiana-Michigan [conference] is doing a recovenanting process that is more spread out and more focused on the issues that the church is facing.”

She said Pacific Southwest’s restructuring was not based on theological matters but on what it means to be in a conference, including participation, credentialing and financial support.

Five of the eight congregations that are no longer Pacific Southwest members do not have a pastor credentialed by the conference. Documents from the Feb. 11 meeting indicate about one third of congregations are carrying the bulk of the financial load, while a third had contributed nothing for years.

Pacific Southwest had about $500,000 in reserves about four years ago and spent it down with staff and ministries.

Ruth-Heffelbower said “drastic” cuts are coming. Three employees total 1.75 full-time equivalency now and will reduce to 1.25 in July, with a goal of reaching 7/8 FTE by the beginning of next year. Knowing which congregations want to be part of the conference will inform other parts of reinventing the conference.

Bumpy rollout

Conference leaders acknowledge the recommitment process could have gone more smoothly.

Information about the process was difficult for some congregations to understand or was slow to be processed by churches not prioritizing relationships with Pacific Southwest. Some congregations didn’t understand why the documents were necessary.

Virgo Handojo, pastor of Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah in Sierra Madre, Calif., was shocked to receive a letter in November.

A membership committee — Femi Fatunmbi, Hyun Hur, Joe Roos and Gene Kimel — assisted congregations with applications and worked to meet with churches not wishing to participate.

“We don’t have membership, but we have committed members,” Handojo said of his congregation. “We grew up in the Communist Party, and there you must register.”

JKI Anugerah is represented on the Pacific Southwest board and issued the only vote against the recommitment process.

Handojo lamented what he sees as the conference valuing money over missions and community.

“Our first priority is looking for a conference that can accept us,” he said. “Our sister church is in Franconia Conference, so maybe they are looking for a possibility to connect, even though they are far away.”

Ruth-Heffelbower said the conference is in communication with all of the congregations that are no longer members. She expects some will reapply before the June 9-11 assembly.

“Our assembly in June is intended to work at [strengthening intercultural competency], and our speaker is Gilberto Perez Jr. from Goshen College’s intercultural center,” she said.

The conference is also consulting with Intercultural Development Inventory administrator Sue Park Hur, co-director of ReconciliAsian and co-pastor of Mountain View Mennonite Church in Upland, Calif.

“We talk about being an intercultural conference, but we haven’t worked enough to talk to each other and understand each other’s cultures,” Ruth-Heffelbower said.

If refugees can’t come, we must go to them

By on Feb 20, 2017 in The World Together | 0 comments

I have heard a lot of discussion about the parable of the good Samaritan among Christians debating the crisis and President Donald Trump’s ban. What surprises me as I listen to these conversations is that many people are using the parable to justify not taking care of their refugee neighbors.

“The Good Samaritan didn’t take the injured Jew home with him.”

“The Good Samaritan found him on his way.”

I’m afraid in justifying ourselves, we are missing the very point Jesus was trying to make.

Luke 10 begins with Jesus sending out the 72. He tells them not to take any provisions and not to greet anyone on the road. If people take them in and receive them, they are to bless their home. If they don’t, he tells them to “shake the dust off their feet” and leave.

What stands out the most to me is that he says he is sending them out as lambs among wolves. There is risk. They could be devoured (Luke 10:1-12).

When the 72 come back, they are amazed at everything they saw. Demons were cast out; sick people got healed. Jesus himself says he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven while they were out. He tells them they now have authority to tread on scorpions and snakes and over all the power of the enemy. “Nevertheless,” he warns, “rejoice only that your name is written in heaven.”

Then, caught up in the Spirit, Jesus prayed, rejoicing in the Father’s will. Rejoicing that the Father revealed hidden things to his disciples.

Let’s pause a moment. What are these “hidden things” Jesus talks about? Could it be the spiritual reality that no matter where his disciples go, no matter whom they move toward with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and no matter who seeks to destroy them in the process, through him they have power over everything the enemy could throw their way?

It is on the heels of this experience that Luke recounts the interaction between Jesus and a self-righteous lawyer. It is after rejoicing over the power God has revealed to his disciples that Jesus tells the parable of a man who traveled outside of his country and cared for an injured enemy.

Who is my neighbor? That is the point of the parable.

And my neighbor is anyone in need of something I can help them with.

Jesus sets the story up as a Samaritan traveling in Jewish territory. He was not going about his business in his local community. He was traveling away from home. We don’t know why — we don’t have to.

Anyone needing the world’s goods, goods we have — he is our neighbor.

When Trump orders a ban on refugees from Iraq, we can respectfully appeal. And then, if he doesn’t listen to our appeal, we must get up and go to them. We should not throw fits, like spoiled kids. Neither should we give up: “Oh, well, guess we can’t do anything for them because our secular government doesn’t want to. And we need to honor our authorities.”

Instead, we should do what the good Samaritan did — which is precisely what Jesus did.

He left his luxurious home in glory. He could have justified how he didn’t need to come. He could have stayed and experienced wonderful relationship with the Father all himself.

But he didn’t. He gave his life that we might share in that relationship. He came and died, that we might find refuge.

If you sense God directing you to get involved in helping refugees in the Middle East, here are a few organizations I recommend getting in contact with:

What is God saying to you?

Asher Witmer is a husband, father, writer and teacher from Los Angeles currently serving as a principal at a small international school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He blogs at asherwitmer.com, where this post first appeared.

How to pray powerfully for peace

By on Feb 17, 2017 in The World Together | 0 comments

I’ve written before on praying for peace and how to pray for peace when you can’t find the words, but I’m still wrestling with how to pray for peace. If faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain (Matt. 17:20-21), then why can’t our prayers bring peace? Is our faith so small, is my faith so microscopic, compared to a mustard seed? What does Scripture say about how to pray powerfully for peace?

Pray often and pray regularly

Over and over again, the Bible teaches praying for peace. So Psalm 122 tells pilgrims on their way to the temple,

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. (verse 6)

Jesus says to his disciples (Luke 6:27-28),

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

1 Tim. 2:1-2 urges:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

These and other parts of Scripture encourage us — urge us — to pray for peace.

The Bible also includes many prayers for peace. Like the letter to the Romans that begins and ends with a prayer for peace:

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 1:7)

The God of peace be with all of you. Amen. (Rom. 15:33)

And 1 Peter:

May grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:2)

Peace to all of you who are in Christ Jesus. (1 Peter 5:14)

These prayers for peace appear at various places throughout the entire Bible, written over centuries. Many years before the birth of Christ in Psalm 29:11:

May the Lord give strength to his people!

May the Lord bless his people with peace!

And offered in Philippians 1:2 years after the birth of Christ:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

So perhaps the first thing we might learn from the Bible about praying powerfully for peace is to pray often and pray regularly.

Pray peace for those we know and for those who are strangers to us

Ancient Jerusalem was a large city, so pilgrims to the temple may not have known every resident and every pilgrim, but still they were told, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” The book of Ephesians may have been a circular letter that made the rounds to a number of different churches, and the original letter writer may not have known all of the members who would receive it. But still Ephesians 6:23 includes a prayer for peace:

Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.

This was a prayer for the whole community — even though the person praying didn’t know everyone, or maybe didn’t know anyone personally.

With that example and encouragement, today we can also pray for people we may not know personally — for public tragedy, for refugees from Syria and other countries, and for other needs in our community and world. Not because we personally know those involved, but because we are called to pray for peace, even when we’re separated by oceans and desert and different language. We can still pray powerfully for peace.

Pray for physical and spiritual well-being

In Psalm 122, the pilgrims to the temple prayed for physical peace — for peace and security within the city walls (verse 7). But the prayer for peace in Rom. 15:13 does not focus on the physical; instead, it centers on the inner peace that comes from believing in Jesus Christ:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So in the Bible, prayers for peace include the physical and the spiritual. Just as peace applies to our total well-being, so when we pray powerfully for peace, our prayers embrace the whole person and the whole world. As 2 Thess. 3:16 says:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you.

Pray for peace and seek peace in action

Scripture is also clear that prayer is more than words, for prayer goes hand in hand with action.

The powerful prayer for peace in Psalm 122 leads to action:

For the sake of my relatives and friends

I will say, “Peace be within you.”

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,

I will seek your good. (verses 8-9)

The psalm does not stop with speaking words of peace in verse 8, but points to the active pursuit of peace in verse 9. So in my congregation, when we prayed for Christians imprisoned in Vietnam, we also wrote letters to the Vietnamese authorities and to our own Canadian government, urging respect for freedom of religion. For Peace Sunday last year, we had several members speak of building peace through refugee sponsorship, in teaching and in other practical ways. For when we pray for peace, we are also called to act for peace.

Pray in dependence on God

Finally, when we pray for peace, we need to realize our dependence on God. While we might want to pray powerfully for peace, the power does not lie in our ability to put words together or to hold silence. The power springs forth not from our prayers, but from the glorious power of God. Ephesians 2:14 insists that Jesus “is our peace,” and in John 14:27, Jesus says to his disciples,

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

To pray powerfully for peace, we need to rely on God’s peace and power.

So I’ll continue to pray for peace and hope you will, too. As God guides us, may we pray regularly and often, for those we know and for those we don’t know, for a peace that embraces our world and our whole being, both physical and spiritual. Let’s seek peace by our actions, and depend on the peace and power of God.

Writing/reflection prompt: Which of these five movements of prayer do you find most challenging, and which come more easily to you: (1) praying regularly and often, (2) praying both for those you know and those you don’t, (3) praying for physical and spiritual peace, (4) following prayer with action, (5) relying on God.

April Yamasaki is lead pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Abbotsford, B.C., and the author of Sacred Pauses (Herald Press, 2013). She blogs at aprilyamasaki.com, where this post originally appeared.

Welcoming the outsider

By on Feb 15, 2017 in The World Together | 0 comments

“Thank you for talking to me,” she repeated.

Taken aback by her obvious gratitude, I nodded. I didn’t view it as a favor. Our college intramural group had walked to the beach across from campus, and I’d merely started a conversation with her along the way.

She was easy to talk to, and I learned that she hadn’t really connected with anyone at our college and thus was about to transfer. Commuting was rough socially. I was surprised to realize that she seemed to think of me as popular since obviously I could think of more popular girls on campus.

I left that conversation angry at myself for not noticing her before. For failing to fulfill my responsibilities as one of the intramural leaders. For missing the girl who didn’t quite fit in.

Because I knew what that was like.

Having moved nine to 12 times in my life, I’ve been the “new girl” a lot. When there are visitors, I tend to have this sixth sense that hones in on them and wants to smother them so they feel welcome. I bite my tongue to keep from constantly jumping in with explanations about acquaintances mentioned who they wouldn’t know, or I try to change the subject when memories they don’t share come up. If they are standing alone, I usually find it hard to concentrate on whatever conversation I’m in, feeling like I should go talk to them.

Yet, here I was having completely missed her because for once I was part of the “in” crowd.

Part of me wanted to argue that I couldn’t worry about everyone and that my old friends were important, too. But the truth is, cliques are just plain wrong — and I didn’t want to be part of one.

Getting outside our comfort zones and close friends can be very difficult. Here are some truths that help me:

  1. Jesus’ heart is for the misfit. He came for the hungry, the poor, the sinners, the blind and the lame. He scorned the popular, the rich, the powerful and the elite. Pray for his heart.
  2. Recognize your selfishness for what it is.
  3. Don’t know what to say? Ask questions. Almost anyone will be glad to open up if they sense you genuinely care. (Praying for someone helps, too.)
  4. Realize they’ll be grateful you made an effort even if it flops. They probably have the same fears and insecurities you do about conversations with new people.
  5. Don’t hold back even if they are just part of the group temporarily. They still need you. They know when your walls are up, and you’ll miss out on a new perspective. I’ve had deep conversations with complete strangers that have greatly impacted who I am today.
  6. If your old friends are quality friends, then they’ll share your desire to make others feel welcome or at least be proud of you for doing so. Perhaps they just need you to set the example or remind them.

“When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” — Jesus (Luke 14:12‭-‬14)

Tabitha Driver is a Mennonite who loves glimpsing God’s goodness on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. She blogs at ultimatemetaphor.blogspot.com, where this post first appeared.

Who says we have to respect authority?

By on Feb 14, 2017 in The World Together | 4 comments

I walked the halls of my high school, dreading (yet hoping) that my teacher would be there. Used to be my teacher, that is.

It had been a few years since I’d graduated, and the hallways seemed smaller than I remembered. Yet the place, the sounds and the smells were still the same.

I found him, back in his classroom at the end of the day when all the students had gone home.

It was the moment I dreaded.

“I came to talk to you about something that happened when I was your student,” I explained. “I doubt if you were aware of it, but I did not have an attitude of respect toward you as my teacher,” I said.

“Oh, I knew.” He smiled. “I surely knew.”

OUCH. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

How could he have known?! I wondered.

But then, how could he not?!

Certainly, I had never spoken in disrespect to him. That I knew. I had followed his classroom rules, done my homework, helped other students and cooperated in class. For all practical purposes, I was probably one of his most model students.

Yet underlying my outward demeanor, I had a dislike for this man — partly because of some of his in-classroom and out-of-the-classroom antics. I had this philosophy that, since I didn’t respect him as a person, I didn’t have to respect him as my instructor. My philosophy was wrong. While I didn’t need to like the man he was, I had a responsibility — since I professed to be a follower of Jesus — to show respect for his position as the teacher in my class. It didn’t mean that what he did wasn’t wrong. It just meant that I was.

I failed. Utterly, totally failed.

For that, I had come to ask his forgiveness. He granted it, and I walked out of that building a grateful, wiser person.

Respect for authority

Then there was the time, many years later when I got pulled over for speeding in our small town of Halifax. The officer (young enough to be my son) who gave me that yellow piece of paper was rude and flippant with me. A few days later, driving through town, he passed me while on duty, and I knew he was going over the speed limit. Proved it, because I pulled in line behind him to see how fast I had to go to keep up. You can be sure I was shaking my head.

It’s good I didn’t have an encounter with him soon after that, especially if he was in uniform, for I fear I would have struggled with my attitude toward him. As it was, I dropped back to the proper speed and never saw him again.

His uniform and position called for my respect even though he did exactly what he had reprimanded me for doing. That’s where the struggle lies. He was wrong, but my concern needed to be to make sure that I wasn’t (wrong, that is.)

We expect those in authority to fill the shoes they are wearing.

They should. When they fail, we offer disdain and lack of cooperation instead of respecting the title and the position. It doesn’t mean they aren’t wrong. It just means that we are.

It doesn’t surprise me when those who deny the name of Jesus refuse to cooperate or respect those in authority. I’m not surprised when folks who don’t belong to the body of Christ refuse to accept those in authority over them.

What surprises (and saddens me) is when those of us who claim to know Jesus as Savior follow the footsteps of those who deny Jesus.

Refusing to show and allow respect for those in authority, they justify their actions on the basis of a lack of character. It doesn’t mean that those in authority aren’t wrong. It just means that we are.

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. (Rom. 13:1-3)

Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus ask us to contribute to those who do wrong, to justify them, to excuse their actions or to applaud what they do. Nowhere are we told to look the other way when an injustice is done to others. Nowhere. Yet we are called to honor and respect the position and the title. For the followers of Jesus, it’s not a choice.

As citizens of the kingdom, we are also called to prayers and intercessions for “kings and all in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). It’s not a choice. It’s a command to pray for those who are in any authority over us. It is a way we respect authority.

I don’t expect those who deny Jesus to follow this command in the Bible. I don’t expect them to respect authority like I am called to do because they are not following the same standard.

For those of us who are followers of Christ, we have no other option — whether it is in response to local, state or national officials. Whether it’s in response to a teacher, a principal, a youth leader, a committee chairperson, a supervisor, administrator, the town mayor, the governor or the president, we are to show respect for the position.

Gert Slabach is a member of Faith Mennonite Church in South Boston, Va., which is part of Mountain Valley Mennonite Churches. She blogs at My Windowsill, where this post first appeared.

Conflict at meeting: ‘Let him speak’

By and on Feb 13, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 2 comments

WINNIPEG, Man. — A Mennonite Church Manitoba meeting at Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship took a confrontational turn on Jan. 12, opening the floodgates of debate on just what it means for local congregations to “create space” for one another based on the Being a Faithful Church 7 resolution passed at last summer’s general assembly in Saskatoon.

To distinguish the conversation at hand from any previous theological debates on same-sex unions, moderator Peter Rempel outlined three core areas for discussion:

  • What principles and values will MC Manitoba use to define the “space” it is trying to make?
  • What constitutes “substantial agreement” with the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective?
  • How can the area church support mutual accountability between levels of church leadership and between congregations at variance on the issues throughout the process?

Participants addressed these questions first in small groups, compiling notes for formal feedback through a paper survey. An open-mic session gave members a chance to further the conversation.

Generally, people affirmed the decision to preserve unity by making room for disagreement but also raised concerns. Members reinforced the need for boundaries around the church’s discernment, to keep it from becoming subject to the caprice of fashionable morality. Some questioned whether leadership is paying more attention to the alleged LGBTQ church exodus than to congregations leaving the area church.

Stephanie Wenger of Winnipeg’s North Kildonan Mennonite Church remarked that “there is a lot of healing and reconciling relationships that needs to happen on both sides” of the controversy, before the resolution can proceed effectively.

Her case was made in point shortly thereafter, when a conflict derailed productive debate.

Toward the end of the open-mic session, Garry Fehr of Blumenort Mennonite Church took the floor and said, “I’m not sure why LGBTQ folks are leaving the church. I don’t know what their reasons are.”

To which an unidentified person called out, “Ask us.”

Without appearing to notice, Fehr continued: “Is it possible that members of the gay community, whether lesbian or homosexual, are being convicted that the lifestyle they are living is wrong, and that because they don’t want to deal with it they are choosing to walk away from the church instead? Even from a spiritual warfare perspective —”

At this point, David Driedger, associate minister of First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, interrupted Fehr, begging a point of order with the moderator on the grounds that “the discussion points for tonight have already been set.”

Rempel attempted to return the floor to Fehr, who had continued speaking over the interruption, asking rhetorically whether “Satan [was] using the gay community as his puppet in an attempt to totally tear apart Mennonite Church Canada.”

Adding to the commotion, several crowd members called out, “Let him speak,” but Driedger persisted. Before order could be restored, Fehr left the microphone and the building.

Rempel formally admonished the gathering, stated his regrets about the incident, which he described as “sinful,” and closed discussion for the evening.

Colleen Edmund concluded the gathering by leading a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Directly after the meeting, Driedger gave the following defense of his actions: “I interrupted those gentlemen from the floor because the statements being made transgressed the boundaries of our conversation. ‘Creating space’ must mean something. . . . Because the comments were not only out of line for the meeting, but continued longstanding and harmful church practices towards LGTBQ folk, it seemed important to interrupt.”

Contacted later, Fehr made no change to his speech from the floor but did offer some clarifying comments: “My desire for God’s church is that we would walk beside and with the gay community in their struggle with same-sex attraction. . . . The gay community is not allowing the church to do this. They are requesting that we accept their way of life and nothing else. [People] cannot experience the love and acceptance of the church without also accepting . . . the rules of God according to Scripture.”

A lesbian participant at the meeting also spoke to Canadian Mennonite afterward. Solene Stockwell of Winnipeg, a regular churchgoer along with her long-time partner, said: “In some ways, I see how the interruption is shutting down and shutting out the ones who are afraid of being unfaithful to God by changing their stance, who are afraid of welcoming sin into their churches.

“To the man speaking, [it] supports his view that, because of us, through our welcome into Mennonite churches, Mennonite churches are being pulled apart. At the same time, [he] was saying horrible things about me and about people that I love.

“I wasn’t sure how much longer I could stand to be hated openly without knowledge of who I was, knowledge of where I come from, what my experience has been, why I’ve had a bumpy relationship with my home church.

“I don’t think I had heard anything to that degree of fear and hate of the LGBTQ in person before. In some ways, I wish the interruption had been done with more kindness, more patience and more love.”

How should we be political?

By on Feb 13, 2017 in The World Together | 0 comments

Some say that Christianity by nature is political.

To a great degree, that’s absolutely true, though I think we must be careful to not simply leave it there as if Christianity is political in the way the world is political — because it’s not.

Christianity is political precisely because it declares that “Jesus is Lord.”

When the first Christians began to utter that now central confession of the Christian faith, it was absolutely a political statement. Originally the popular saying was “Caesar is Lord,” so to replace Caesar with Jesus was not just political in nature, it was actually an act of political rebellion from the system these early Christians found themselves in.

Another famous term Jesus used was “kingdom” which is also political — it’s hard to flip a page of the Gospels without Jesus referring to it, and some of the central teachings of Jesus are directly related to how things work in his political world.

While one of the very first acts of Jesus was to categorically reject political power (something as an Anabaptist I completely affirm), there was certainly a political edge to his ministry.

The word politics itself refers to “policies” that affect the general public. While neither Jesus nor the early Christians told the government the best way to do things, they most certainly spoke out on how people ought to be treated. Thus, as we revisit Christian origins and those who founded our religion, here are five ways to be political the way Jesus and early Christians were political:

5. Critique the political landscape inasmuch as you are attempting to show the world that the principles of God’s kingdom are radically different.

As Christians we must not engage the political arena out of loyalty to a nation or political party. We must not become people who blindly carry the water for a political group. Jesus and the early Christians avoided this entirely — they were focused on building God’s other-worldly kingdom that operated on a completely different set of principles than any nation then or now.

Instead, when we critique policies or rebuke leaders, may we do it out of loyalty to kingdom principles and a desire to show the world that so many national political values do not line up with kingdom values. We must critique inasmuch as we’re showing a difference between the two. (This principle is exactly why I, a non-voting Anabaptist/Mennonite type, still speak out on some political issues: I want to illustrate the difference between the two kingdoms.)

4. Don’t confuse the calling to prophetically rebuke power to that of wanting/attempting to assume power.

The quest for power has the ability to suck you in, and once it does, it re-wires your brain to a degree where you’d be lucky to ever get it back. We must remember that even though Jesus and early Christians spoke out on policies that impacted people (politics) they did not get caught up in a quest for political power or positions.

Politicians may be able to make sweeping changes in policy, but we are the ones who are able to make sweeping changes in culture, and changing culture is what brings the most effective and longest lasting change to the world. This is precisely why Jesus and the early Christians focused on being culture changers instead of culture rulers.

3. Don’t wait for government to solve problems — get busy participating in solutions.

Certainly the Bible prescribes certain functions/responsibilities for earthly rulers. Throughout the Old Testament God commanded kings to tend to certain things, such as ensuring redistributive justice for the poor, the widow and the orphan, and welcoming immigrants. However (and I’ll admit, we on the left are known for this), we must not wait for government to solve problems. Government is exceedingly slow and often inefficient.

The early Christians didn’t wait for government. They got busy thinking of solutions. For example, early Christians dealt with poverty by sharing their wealth in-kind, rejecting personal ownership of property, and redistributing wealth to the poor and needy. While government can — and I say does — have a legitimate, biblical mandate to ensure such things, we must not wait or place hope in that. Instead, we must get busy working toward solutions on our own.

2. Speak loudest not on the issues most important to you, but those which impact the marginalized, forgotten and the thrown-away.

Jesus and the early Christians didn’t get involved politically to speak for themselves. They didn’t argue for lower taxes so they could have more money left at the end of the year. Instead, they spoke out on the issues that most desperately impacted the marginalized, the forgotten and those that culture had thrown away.

Jesus spoke forcefully on caring for the hungry, the naked, for immigrants, for those in prison, etc. Early Christians also focused heavily on those issues, in addition to issues such as vocally opposing capital punishment (which was universally believed by Christians to be abhorrent).

Want to speak out politically? Fine — but speak out primarily on the issues that impact culture’s forgotten and thrown away.

1. Rebuke the religious leaders who collude with political power-holders to oppress people in the name of religion.

Speaking out politically is primarily an issue of speaking to secular government. However, all throughout history there have been religious leaders who colluded with government powers for either money, fame, power, influence or other non-Jesusy desires.

While I believe speaking out on politics and even criticizing political leaders is part of the Christian tradition (John the baptist was a political prisoner who was executed for rebuking the king’s sexual immorality), Jesus held his sharpest rebukes for the powerful religious leaders who tried to oppress others by enforcing their rigid religious rules on everyone else.

In fact, Jesus spent most of his time rebuking this particular group because he was far more concerned with how religious leaders were treating people than how secular political leaders were treating people. It got so bad that these religious leaders don’t just block Jesus on Facebook; they actually used their influence with secular political forces to have Jesus tortured and murdered.

No one hated Jesus more than conservative religious leaders who were knee-deep into secular politics.

Is Christianity political by nature? Most certainly, but it’s not political in nature the way the world is.

As Christians, I hope we’ll continue the tradition of being “political” but inasmuch as Jesus and early Christians were political. When we speak, may we do so in order to demonstrate the kingdom of Jesus is totally different. When we rebuke power, may we resist the the allure to become power. When we identify needs, let us be the first in line to offer a solution and support. As we speak on issues, may we speak the loudest on the issues that impact those with less privilege than ourselves.

Most of all, for those of us who want to be political the way Jesus was political, may we save our harshest rebukes for our own religious leaders who collude with the powerful in order to coerce others in the name of “religion.”

Benjamin L. Corey, an Anabaptist author, speaker and blogger from Auburn, Maine, is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. This first appeared on his blog, Formerly Fundie, where he discusses the intersection of faith and culture from a progressive/emergent/neo-Anabaptist vantage point.