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How God Moves Us Into New Things

8 Reasons for Leaders to Give God a Blank Check

Shel: Great sermon clip (same thing on following God/leading from a freewill then a more reformed perspective) and article below, Before the last two ministry changes in my life the Lord had nudged me for a while to get me to go and be "a blank check" to go invest the "talents"He's given in a faith risking way. I should also say Greg Boyd's sermon series1 on Spiritual gifts and not resting on yesterday's faith with facts and people who change was also important . Again, the Parable of the Talents continues to challenge and inform my personal risk-taking for the Kingdom.

1 http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon/mystery-of-the-miraculous Boyd's particular teaching that reinforced the gift of faith God has given to me from time to time - and knowing when a season is over:

One thing I will say about it is this. It’s important when you are in a ministry or task or relationship that you need persistence against all odds that you keep checking in with the Holy Spirit.

Here’s why.
People make decisions, angels make decisions that effect things that come to pass and sometimes circumstances change windows of opportunity can close.

[NOTE: In the sermon Boyd makes a strong point of persistence in the face of obstacles - even impossible ones if God has given a gift of faith for that. No willy-nilly jump ship teaching here. However, he adds they important of ongoing listening/checking-in with the Spirit because things might have changed - listen or read the sermon!]

So it can happen that a plan that God has to move you this way gets closed because of decisions that people or angels or other things make and so now God wants to reassign you something.

If you are not listening to the Spirit, you will keep following last year’s call and you may find yourself stubbornly hitting your head against the wall where God knows that wall is not going to move and He’s trying to tell you but if you’re not listening then you’ll just keep on doing it.

Just because God called you to something last year doesn’t mean He’s calling you to it this year.

That doesn’t mean you heard wrongly when He changes the plan, He does it in the bible, all of bible. God changes His mind on certain things because circumstances change.

This was feasible but is no longer feasible because people made this decision so lets move in this direction, that door closes let’s go in this direction.

Folks, following the Spirit isn’t about coasting on something He told you to do 5 years ago, it’s listening to the Spirit today, moment by moment. We need to be walking in step with the Spirit because God knows all the things, all the variables; He knows the best place for you to put your time, energy and persistence to.

He doesn’t want you wasting your time on things that are no longer a possibility. This is why God may call you to pursue something, something like this building, but it may not turn out.

It doesn’t mean that we heard God wrongly; it just means that people made decisions or angels made decisions that changed the circumstances. What would happen if these 3 owners had not got in a fight? A lot of things could happen that would change the plan but God saw that this was possible, maybe even feasible and so he pushes in this direction and worked behind the scenes to bring it about.

So stay in touch with the Spirit, always be checking in on what’s going on today.

Don’t coast on yesterday’s calling...

Here is a more conservative take on the same thing by Chuck Lawless 8-Reasons Leaders Give God a Blank Check (cheque)


I will simply state up front what you will likely realize: I write this blog as a Southern Baptist, but I trust its application is clear for all Christians. Twice now within the past several months – first from International Mission Board president David Platt, and most recently from my president at Southeastern Seminary, Danny Akin – I have heard a similar challenge. “What we must do,” they have said in different contexts, “is give God a blank check. Give Him the check, and let Him fill in the blanks.”

I have been a follower of Jesus for a long time, but the “blank check” image is still stretching me. In fact, few exhortations have been as thought provoking to me. Below are eight reasons why the “blank check” call is both necessary and challenging for me as I strive to be a leader in God’s work. Perhaps the image will likewise challenge you.

It forces me to recognize the idolatry of my comfort. If I’m honest, I can easily get comfortable where I am. The routine may be monotonous at times, but it’s safe . . . convenient . . . familiar . . . reassuring. If I agree to follow God but only within my comfort zone, though, my ease has become my idol.

It requires me to evaluate how deeply my faith affects my daily living. Do I, for example, really believe my life is not my own? If I have given my life to Jesus, my yesterdays are forgiven, my todays rest in His hands, and my tomorrows are entirely His. The blank check about tomorrow should not alarm me today if I trust that God is holy, loving, and sovereign.

It reminds me that the Christian life really is about faith. Living by faith means trusting God as He unrolls the scroll of our lives. We follow Him obediently each day, not knowing what each further roll – that is, the blank check – will bring, yet believing the fully unrolled scroll will reflect His glory and wisdom.

It reinforces the truth that God’s plan might be costly for me. God alone has the right to fill in the blank check. He may use us to conquer kingdoms . . . or He may send us to persecution and death (Heb. 11:32-38). I proclaim this reality, but seldom do I deeply consider the truth that death could fill the line on my blank check. That thought is, to be honest, almost too heavy to ponder.

It calls me to ask if I truly believe God is all-wise. It’s easy to preach about His wisdom in the relative safety of my North American seminary classroom or local church pulpit. I don’t know if it would be as easy, however, if His calling were to require moving my family to a center of Islam . . . or leaving a mega-church to plant an urban congregation . . . or downsizing to provide more dollars for His work . . . or suffering in the midst of telling the gospel.

It prompts me to consider my burden over the lostness of the world and the reality of hell. Both David Platt and Danny Akin are driven by a theological urgency to get the good news to people who do not know Jesus. My level of willingness to give God a blank check may well be a reflection of whether I share that urgency. Frankly, that assessment stings a bit.

It fractures any belief that I am Christ-like. Jesus, of course, knew what obedience to the Father would cost Him. With “cross” written on the check, Jesus said, “not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Until I am willing to have the ultimate cost written on my blank check so others might be saved, I do not yet fully reflect the heart of Christ.

It drives me to deep self-reflection. No matter how long I have been a Jesus follower, I still need Holy Spirit-led personal reflection in the light of God’s Word. I need men of God who challenge me to a level of holy discomfort, who unreservedly call me to give God a blank check.

I have a long way to go. Please pray for me.

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

FYI Here's another one - I remember years ago confronting a leader on this one: http://thomrainer.com/2014/12/17/one-sentence-pastors-church-staff-hate-hear/

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Ben W: The Nonsense of Christmas

Shel: I've been enjoying these great summary posts. Much of this stuff I've taught over the years:



The comments and BW3's responses are great...

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Great Post: 5 Things That Give Pastors A Bad Name With Unchurched People


By Carey Nieuwhof

I’ve been a pastor since I was 30 years old, but even now, I still don’t really like telling people what I do.

I have a heart for unchurched people and am always trying to find a way to build bridges and tear down barriers. But I feel like telling people I’m a pastor or lead a church almost automatically creates a barrier—a barrier that seems to grow with every passing year.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel there’s a funk associated with the idea of being a pastor that might be a combination of

Confusion…I’ve never actually met anyone who works at a church (that’s especially true in an unchurched country like Canada, where I live).

Suspicion…So what’s the deal with all those church scandals and are you in any way related to them?

Irrelevance…So what exactly would you do all day or why on earth would your organization exist?

Pity..You really couldn’t do anything else with your life?

It’s easy to point your finger at high profile pastors who fell or who have given the church a bad name, but that lets the rest of us off the hook too easily.

Sure, we can use the negative association to vision cast and correct assumptions (and I try to do that), but what if pastors had a good name in most communities?

So let me ask a pointed question: Is there anything you or I do–as regular, average pastors–that hurts rather than helps the cause of the local church?

I think so. This matters because the more we become aware of them and address them, the better we’ll become at fulfilling our mission.

What gives pastors a bad name
5 Things That Give Pastors a Bad Name

Please hear that I love the local church. And I love local church pastors.

The vast majority are hard working, mostly underpaid, sincere people who really love Jesus and want to make a difference.

But our blind spots can be our worst enemies. Identify them, and suddenly you can be more effective.

So here are 5 traps I try to avoid as a local pastor who loves the church and loves the people we’re trying to reach.
1. Speaking weird

I started to fall into this trap early in my ministry, and realized I had to correct it right away.

If you speak in code, you’ll have a hard time connecting with unchurched people.

If you find yourself saying brother, sister, amen, fellowship, tribulation and the like, it tends to bring less credibility to what you do.

Sure, that might work in your church circles, but if you’re trying to reach your community, it’s a barrier.

I also think the more titles you have, the weirder it gets. People ask all the time what to call me. I say Carey. I don’t even list my degrees anywhere (although I have three of them). I realize traditions differ, but I’m trying to connect with people who don’t go to church.

Here’s my rule. If you can’t talk to someone on the street the way you talk in church, you have a problem with the way you talk.

So don’t speak weird.
If you can’t talk to someone on the street the way you talk in church, you have a problem.

2. Pretending to be something we’re not

Unchurched people are tired of the hypocrisy. And, honestly, church people are weary of thinking of their pastor as someone who has it all together.

A pastor’s prayers don’t go directly to heaven. You struggle as a pastor spiritually. So do I. Sometimes we feel close to God. Sometimes we don’t.

Few of us have perfect marriages. And we need to say sorry as often as the next person.

What would happen if pastors were simply more authentic? Not as in super-raw authentic, but appropriately transparent. (I wrote about my personal rules about what to share and what not to share publicly in this post.)

Churches spent the ’90s and 2000s trying to be relevant.

Authenticity is the new relevance. Cool church isn’t nearly as powerful as authentic church.

So be honest. Talk about your struggles (appropriately).
Cool church isn’t nearly as powerful as authentic church.

3. Being known for what we’re against, not what we’re for

Many pastors—famous and not famous— have become known for ranting against the world.

Yes, there’s much to wring our hands over.

But I believe the general thrust of the of the Gospel is that Jesus loves the world and died for the world as an outpouring of that love.

You can think through that theologically, but also practically (most theology is practical in the end anyway).

Who would you rather hang out with? Someone who hates you, or someone who loves you, (even if they disagree with you)?

That’s a no brainer for all of us.

People gravitate toward love. You do. I do.

So…what if instead of being known for what we’re against, the local church was known for what we’re for?

I am tremendously inspired by what Jeff Henderson and the people of Gwinnett Church have done with their #ForGwinnett campaign.

They want to make significant inroads into their community, and they want to be known for what they’re for as a local church, not what they’re against.

You can check out their Facebook page to see the highlights of their #ForGwinnett campaign.
Are you known for what you’re for, or what you’re against?

4. Being Experts on Things We’re Not Experts On

Local pastors are always being asked “What’s your opinion on [fill in the blank]?”

Many of us are scared to say “I’m not sure”. So we’re tempted to offer an ill-considered viewpoint on something we don’t fully understand. Even worse, some of us can gain social media traction through those ill-considered opinions.

I may have spent thousands of hours reading the scripture and studying theology, but that doesn’t make me an expert on everything except maybe coming to faith and growing in faith. I think I can speak into that.

I’ve also spent lots of personal time studying leadership, change and parenting. While I’ve got a lot left to learn, I can speak with a bit of expertise into those areas.

But I’m not an expert on the vast majority of issues. Do I have opinions? Sure.

But I’m not sure those opinions are helpful to the average person.

Increasingly before speaking into any issue I ask myself “Will this help move a person closer to Jesus or further away from Jesus?”

Many of our half-thought-through and even deeply held ‘opinions’ in all likelihood move Christians and non-Christians further away from Jesus.

So why offer them at all if they’re not core to the scripture or the Gospel?

Instead, why don’t we all get comfortable saying “I’m not sure” or even better, “What do you think?”

Then just listen.

You’ll be amazed at what you learn, and how you listening might actually help move someone closer to Jesus.

5. Claiming Privilege

Sometimes there’s a really good reason you need a reserved parking spot. But often there’s not.

You just want it.

Or worse, you think you deserve it.

Right now I have the smallest office of any staff who have an office. In the new facility we’re building, I have an office but it’s not the biggest one.

Jesus came to serve, not to be served. The more I claim privilege, the less I’m like Jesus.

The challenge of course, is that many of us are privileged economically or socially. So it will be a daily struggle.

But sharing what you have with others, taking the low place and serving alongside others can make a big difference, even if after it’s over, you retreat to an office to write your message in silence.
Sometimes there’s a really good reason you need a reserved parking spot. But often, there’s not….

What Would You Add?

These are 5 things I see that give local pastors a bad name with unchurched people.

What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear what you’re learning.

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The Nonsense of Christmas Pt. 1 – The Idolarty of the Physical Family against the Spiritual Family

Shel: For years I have made mention that the church is a spiritual family - which trumps and also protects the physical family at the same time.

Your marriage, your children, your physical (dna, adoption, etc.) family is stronger when it is not the center - but Jesus is. In some ways our family is our "first ministry" but in other ways if that is not checked by Jesus being our "first ministry" it is actually in danger of becoming an idol.

Ben Witherington III is writing a great little reminder on his blog:

The Nonsense of Christmas— Part One December 6, 2014 by Ben Witherington

Risking the possibility that I might be called Scrooge, I am going to muster up my courage and hope that it might be useful to do some demythologizing of Christmas. Christmas today is of course a time off from work where one tends to spend time with one’s birth family or extended birth family, having done far too much shopping, and then far too much eating, while spending time with those who are supposed to be our loved ones, and sometimes are.

That is what normally happens for many folks, though the boomerang effect of that approach is that: 1) those who have no family; or 2) those who have had abusive families; or 3) those who really don’t like or get along with their families, or 4) those (now a majority in the U.S) who are single and have no mate to celebrate Christmas with, find Christmas to be the most intolerable time of year. It is the time of year when you are reminded once again that broken relationships or no intimate relationships have ruled your past, and continue to haunt you. There is no Christmas cheer for those sorts of folks at Christmas, quite the opposite. But what if it is the case that we have made Christmas what it is not? What if Christmas is really not about over-spending and over-celebrating and over-eating with one’s physical family? What if Christmas is really about something else.

What if Christmas really is about the Incarnation, and the beginnings of the story of the family of faith, rather than the reaffirming of the stories about physical families? What if Christmas is not about sharing the offspring you have had in the last year but about sharing the Offspring which Mary had long ago? What if Christmas is meant to focus on Christ and indeed in a Godward direction in general? What if Christmas is primarily about celebratory worship and not primarily about physical family reunions? I would venture to say that if we celebrated the birth of Christ in a way that did indeed focus on what the NT says that is all about, then people who often feel alone, or lonely, or left out or reminded of past family failures would not need to feel those ways any more.

If the body of Christ really was a family, then physical family problems and dysfunctionality, while not disappearing, could take a back seat to the celebration of the forever family of the Lord. In other words, the nonsense that Christmas has evolved into— a time when we give ourselves all sorts of lavish gifts and hardly give Jesus and his people the time of day, except maybe on Christmas Eve, is not what Christmas is really all about. We will say more about this in our next post.

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BWIII: Five Factors which Changed Church History

Five Factors which Changed Church History
by Ben Witherington III

Scholars have often debated why it is that the church of Constantine’s period looks so very different in various respects from the earliest church. What were the factors which led to the change or transformation of the early Christian movement, so that by the time we get to Constantine and thereafter the roles of men and women in the church have changed, and indeed the church becomes much more like an OT institution than one like what we find in the letters in the NT itself? While it would be possible to mention many factors which led to significant changes in the church, it is possible to isolate five major ones.

Firstly, there is the obvious fact that the church became increasingly and overwhelmingly an entity populated by Gentiles. Yes, there were Jewish Christians still in the broad stream of the Christian movement well into the early Middle Ages, but their numbers gradually dwindled, one might almost say withered, in the heat of rising anti-Semitism in the church. Let’s be clear that already in the first century A.D. we have clear evidence that Romans showed anti-Semitic tendencies of various sorts, and Jews were often ridiculed in the Roman writings of Juvenal and others. As the church became increasingly Gentile in character, this attitude carried over into the church, and grew like a cancer within the church. Even church fathers like Chrysostom, who otherwise had many virtues, reflected this strong rising tide, and tendency to blame Jews for a lot of things— not least for the death of Jesus. Obviously, the earliest followers of Jesus were all Jews— Peter, James, John, Paul and so on. By the time we get to Constantine in the fourth century just the opposite is the case. And with this sea change, came the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

Secondly, there is the loss of what I will call horizontal eschatology, which is replaced by, at least by emphasis if not in toto, by a vertical eschatology. What I mean by this is that after several of the prophetic and eschatological movements in 2nd century Christianity, the vibrant sense of the possible imminent return of Christ was lost. It was not as if the church abandoned a belief in the Second Coming of Christ, but it ceased to be a guiding hermeneutic which led folk to sit lightly with the institutions of this world— governments, marriage, economic institutions (including slavery), and so on. This was in turn replaced by a focus on dying and going to heaven. Now this change is not really very surprising in an increasingly Gentile Church because the Greco-Roman world associated afterlife with something that happened in another world, the Underworld, or the fields of Elysium in a few cases. The Greco-Roman world did not believe in resurrection of the dead, nor other eschatological ideas like the return of a savior figure to transform space and time.

Thirdly, along with these two changes came the resurgence of patriarchy, not only as the model for normal family life, but also as the hierarchial structure that would dominate church life as well. Whereas, in the first and second centuries we see efforts to change patriarchy within the physical family structure, and to affirm that roles in the church should be determined by calling and gifting and not by gender, already in the second century in various contexts women were increasingly being prevented from playing important roles in the church, and they eventually heard the cry ‘get thee to a nunnery’, so that they could only exercise leadership roles in relationship to other women. This stands in contrast to what we find in the NT where we have women teachers, preachers, deacons, prophetesses, and even an apostle (Junia), and we continue to see some evidence of this in the second century (see the Acts of Paul and Thecla). But we should not talk about this development without turning now to the fourth one— the arising of strong asceticism.

Fourthly, whatever the sociological roots of the rise of asceticism as an ideal for those wanting to be truly holy, truly sanctified, the theological roots can be traced to a defective theology of the goodness of human sexuality, and human sexual expression. In part this reflects the loss of a theology of creation which affirms the goodness of being male and female, the goodness of the one flesh union they can share, and the importance of the creation order mandate— ‘be fruitful and multiply’. When the ascetical and even Gnostic tendencies reared their ugly heads in church history, suggesting that after all matter/physicality/physical expressions like intercourse are tainted whereas only ‘spirit’ is good, we are off to the races with a belief that sex is an unholy activity, a necessary evil at best, and marriage in the main is just a remedy for concupiscence. None of this comports with the Biblical theology of creation and of family and of the joys of parenting. Even when the latter was affirmed as a limited good, it was seen as a ‘less holy’ calling than being a eunuch for the Lord, remaining celibate for the sake of the kingdom.

Fifthly, the last factor may seem an odd development in light of the loss of a positive OT theology of creation, but it is nonetheless a real one. I am referring to the hermeneutical move that led to the reinterpreting of NT ministry and roles and holy days in light of OT institutions. Whereas, in the first century church there were no priests, except Christ the heavenly high priest and the priesthood of all believers, by the time we get to the medieval church ministers have become a class of priests, and this, based on Leviticus, meant males only. There was furthermore the reinterpretation of the Lord’s Supper as in itself a ‘sacrifice of the mass’, the reinterpretation of churches as temples, the reinterpretation of the Lord’s day as the Sabbath, and so on. This OT hermeneutic, applied to NT institutions and practices was to guide both the Catholic and the Orthodox traditions from the early Middle Ages until now! Even now. But frankly, this whole approach bears little resemblance to what happened in house churches in the first century A.D. where the only sacrifices were those of self (Rom. 12.1-2) and of praise (see Heb. 13).

Let me be clear that it is historically inaccurate to blame Constantine for these changes. Patriarchy, loss of horizontal eschatology, the dominance of Gentiles in the church coupled with the rise of anti-Semitism, the rise of asceticism, and the OT hermeneutic had already changed the early Christian movement from a movement to a religion like many another Greco-Roman religion, the heart of which was priests, temples, and sacrifices. Constantine simply allowed the underground church to be an above ground legitimate enterprise. He did not determine its character, which had already been largely formed.

None of this, and I do mean none of this, was good news for women and their roles in the church, unless they were content to be involved in the growing monastic movement. What is clear is that the radical tendencies in earliest Christianity, including the leveling effect of pronouncements like Gal. 3.28, had been sublimated, denied, buried, reinterpreted as a part of the resurgency of patriarchy in the Christian movement and the rise of a two track model of holiness (there are the ‘saints’ who are uber-holy, not least because they don’t engage in sexual activities, and then there are the plain old ordinary Christians— a distinction the NT knows nothing of).

Of course there are many more factors we could list to provide an explanation for why the fourth century church looked so different from the first century church, but these, in my view are the most obvious and salient factors. And yet there was hope— because with the canonization of the Bible, including a specific 27 book NT canon, there was enshrined a revolutionary potential involving both women and men, that like a ticking time bomb might explode at any time, and lead to one church reformation after another, after another, as the church realized that it had strayed far from the original vision of Christ and his apostles.

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Where Am I? #Canadianisms #Turronno #westenders

Getting to know the "lay of the land" has been part of my learning in these early weeks/months here in Toronto (locals usually say: Turronno).

This is a pretty good resource - http://www.torontoneighbourhoods.net

My area in particular are the neighbourhoods around High Park (our version of Central Park - or a greatly multiplied McKennan Park for you SuFusians).

The particular hoods are all the West End http://www.torontoneighbourhoods.net/neighbourhoods/west-end

and the Southeast Parts of Etobicoke (said: e(short e - as in "eh?")-tow-bey-co) http://www.torontoneighbourhoods.net/neighbourhoods/etobicoke

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‘World Religions: Sikhs, Seventh Day Adventists & Mennonites’ an Interfaith Special Will be Broadcast Sunday December 14th 2014

Just an FYI:

via press release:




WORLD RELIGIONS: SIKHS, SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS, & MENNONITES, a CBS Interfaith Special, looks at three faiths and asks them to share with us their beliefs, traditions, histories and modern voice. This special broadcast will be on the CBS Television Network Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014 (check local listings).

On the program, we interview Simran Jeet Singh, who is a Sikh and a PhD candidate at Columbia University’s Department of Religion, about the tenets of the Sikh tradition, which originated more than 500 years ago in South Asia, in a region called Punjab. Singh also talks to us about common misconceptions and how this sometimes leads to discriminatory practices in the U.S. The show features services at the Sikh Cultural Society in Queens, N.Y.

Also featured on the broadcast is John L. Ruth, a Mennonite who is a descendent of the first early Mennonite settlers in the U.S. who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1600s. With the Mennonite tradition dating back all the way to 16th century Europe, we also speak with Joel Alderfer and Forrest Moyer of the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, Pa.

Finally, we spend time in Silver Spring, Md., with Ella Smith Simmons, Vice President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, a Protestant denomination that began in America in the mid-1800s, and ask her about what it means to live as an Adventist today. We also hear from Dr. Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review and Adventist World, about how the religion was first founded. Also interviewed is Richard Duerksen, Assistant to the President for Maranatha Volunteers International. He shares his reflections on the faith and the mission work his organization is doing all over the world.

John P. Blessington is the executive producer and Liz Kineke is the producer. In creating the topics and content of this Cultural & Religious Documentary CBS seeks input from the National Council of Churches, the Interfaith Broadcast Commission, and from clergy, scholars and other representatives of each of the religions presented within a program.

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A friend's wife, Osheta Moore (TC and Osheta) wrote this I would like to share about #ferguson. Her thoughts are rooted at a level and life experience that I do not have...

So I've been tossing and turning all night over the ‪#‎Ferguson‬ decision. So many people have said so many things- some helpful, some not so much. We all come to this thorny topic of race with our own baggage and insecurities. So, instead of clutching indulgently to fear, anger, bitterness, or hatred, today I want make space in my heart to have the grace to hear the best in others as they process this verdict. I want to practice creating back stories for those spewing hatred so that I can easily move to forgiveness. I want to study Jesus closely to see how I can listen well and speak truth winsomely. I want my words to add to the advancement of shalom and not give into the vortex of hate. Please pray for the family of Michael Brown and the people of #Ferguson. Pray for black mamas like me who keep peering into her boys' room in the middle of the night and wondering, 'what if, Lord? What if?' Please pray for God to show you how you can practice racial reconciliation right in your context. This is when we can rise to the occasion- people of the Prince of Peace. Let us model enemy love well and let us lean into our Kingdom identity of agents of shalom. Let us be radiant lights of love in the midst of this oppressive darkness.

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