Choose Beauty and Joy

woman-with-hijab-courtesy-of-islam-ruA hijab covered her hair completely, but I could see she was beautiful. Big hazel eyes surrounded by long lashes that curved up naturally without the help of mascara. Zahra was in one of my classes, and when prompted to write about what she would do if she could do anything in the world, here’s what she wrote: “I would like to be a model or a designer of wedding dresses if money and religion were not factors.”

I could relate to Zahra as at one time my church culture did not permit women to wear make-up. For some, the issue of make-up is unimportant, and some suggest that it is society’s message to women that they don’t look acceptable without some modifications to their natural appearance. However, make-up has always been a form of art to me, wearable art, and I love dabbling in it. During the period of time when make-up was considered vain in the church culture I was a part of, I felt sad and judged, as if part of me were wrong, lacking in good character and displeasing to God.

Since that time, my church’s culture has changed dramatically, but I haven’t forgotten the important lesson I learned from feeling as if something that I found beautiful, fun, and joyful was displeasing to God. When we feel as if parts of ourselves are unacceptable to God or that what brings us joy does not bring joy to God, it breeds insecurity. We find it hard to trust a God who might not like us as we are. In our struggle to make ourselves conform to a false standard, we lose some of the beauty and joy that God intended us to have in this life.

One of my favorite stories from author and theologian C. Baxter Kruger is the story he tells comparing the gift of life given to us with the gift of a bicycle given to a young boy. He makes the point that the father who gifted the bike to the boy doesn’t expect him to go around thinking about his father as he rides, trying to make the father proud. Instead, the father wants the boy to enjoy the thrill of the ride and the fullness of the experience. Similarly, God doesn’t gift us with life and a variety of creative desires and then deny us the expression of that joy and beauty. God wants us to “ride,” and this includes enjoying the expression of beauty and creativity as it has been placed in our unique hearts.

I hope that Zahra knows that her God loves beauty and wedding dresses, and that her desire to create beauty is an expression of Divine creativity placed in her heart. I still enjoy make-up, and looking at my colored nail polish gives me great pleasure, regardless of any societal pressures. I’m sure that God is pleased that I know I’m loved and accepted, celebrating the distinctive expression of beauty and creativity that has been placed in my heart.

~by Nan Kuhlman

photo courtesy of

Yes – Barack, Hillary and “the Donald” are Better Than You!


Or, at least grace is given, from Jesus, to consider them better than you! Right? Right? Right?

I know. It almost doesn’t seem like that kind of grace is true for us after seeing or participating in all of those political rants on Facebook this year (and received even in my mailbox today!). But thank Abba Father for helping us to receive this grace, through Jesus, in the Spirit, and written by the Apostle Paul in scripture:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit [through factional motives, or strife], but with [an attitude of] humility [being neither arrogant nor self-righteous], regard others as more important than yourselves.” Phil 2:3 (AMP)

I’m not saying, and the Apostle Paul isn’t saying, that people aren’t sometimes bad and don’t make bad decisions that suck. They do! We do! You do! Paul did! All do! Paul considers himself to be “the worst of sinners”, 1 Tim 1:16, (as you should be regarding yourself, right?!) Paul is just admitting that, after an encounter with Jesus and receiving Who Jesus says he is, we see that we all suck badly enough with our sin nature that we rebel against God (and you really can’t get worse than that – I don’t care who you are! Can you?)

If for some reason you can’t receive that, then can you at least receive that however far you perceive yourself to be away from Barack, Donald and Hillary in your supposed sin and ethical behavior, you are wayyyyyy to the infinite power closer to them than you are to Jesus, WHO NEVER SINNED! Hmpf! It’s ONLY in Jesus’ humanity that your humanity is perfected, AND, you’re not Him and he’s not you! He sends the Spirit so that we, you, sinners, might be conformed to him, not just in his humanity, but in ours! As Dr. Gary Deddo says “What Jesus does for and to us, the Holy Spirit works out in and through us!”

So, if you’re going to give us a Christian political rant, have at it! But have mercy (the kind you want the political leader to have on others! Ha!). We should be able to sense some of Christ’s humility in your rant, not simply political hate, if you’re a Christian! Can you at least get a word or two in about Christ? It is a “Christ”ian rant, if it’s coming from you, right? Politics are tainted with darkness, so why not leave people with a witness of the hope of Christ in politics, the Light the darkness cannot overcome?

And in case you’ve forgotten Who Jesus is (and we DO forget), he is the Son of Abba Father, who sends the Holy Spirit, through Jesus, bringing Jesus to our remembrance! Yes! Ask Father for the Holy Spirit before your next political rant, because there’s nothing more God would rather give you than the Holy Spirit! Luke 11:9-13.

As the Holy Spirit grants you growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, be political because you’re Christ-centered, not just mentioning Christ because your political-centered! Ha! Proclaim Jesus as the Sovereign of the world and don’t just be concerned with the sovereignty of this or that nation!

Perhaps you think I’m overly spiritualizing things, but I’m actually not! Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” – John 8:12.Whatever spiritual means, it means God in flesh and the ordinary things of life! To say Jesus is to say “flesh” and “Spirit”. Therefore, Jesus IS the spiritual Light on politics, in flesh, and politics really matters, and we ought to wrestle with and talk about it, and all subjects, in the Spirit.

As Christians we’ve not become so poisoned with hate, so sin and policy-centered, that we can’t (or won’t?) write a political rant that leaves us more with the Christian hope than hate for a human brother or sister (political leader), have we?! If we’ve become like that, we need more grace to become more Christ-centered in our spiritual journey. Can’t you use at least 4 of your 150 characters to characterize Jesus and (dare I suggest) request P-R-A-Y-er FOR the political leader as Christ holds them, rather than praying for them to “go to hell” as we hold them. Haha

By the way, if you aren’t claiming to speak or write in Christ’s name, or as one in whom His Spirit dwells, then of course this post wasn’t written for you except as a witness to you of Christ – Who loves and has mercy on you too! (wink wink) And who knows (God knows!) maybe Barack, Hillary and Donald REALLY ARE BETTER THAN YOU, considering Who they know versus Who you know! Hmmmm…

– tjbrassell


Hate Your Family?

simon-cyreneWhoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. ~ Luke 14:26-27

Jesus says that the way to belong to a family is to hate your family and the way to enter into the life that Jesus offers is to hate life itself and to take up a cross – that is, to embrace death by execution – in order to follow Jesus. Luke has already said, back in chapter 9, that Jesus has “set his face” toward Jerusalem because the time has come for him to die. And now Jesus is telling us, his followers, we must also set our faces towards this destiny, take up our cross, and follow him.

The temptation comes now to try to wriggle out of it – does “hate” really mean “hate”? Does a cross really signify death? Is Jesus really God in the flesh speaking to us or are these perhaps merely the suggestions of a somewhat mentally unstable self-proclaimed prophet? And here’s where Luke becomes a really annoying writer. Just in case it isn’t clear, he drives the final nail in the coffin and quotes Jesus saying “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Darn it! Jesus, I can hate my family, but don’t tell me I’ve got to give up my golf clubs, my car, or my playstation 4! I don’t think any of us are really in the process of giving up all our possessions.

Or are we?

In a very real and legally binding sense we are all in the process of giving up all our possessions. We are all in the process of leaving our family. We are all on a narrow road towards a narrow door – a doorway called death, through which we may pass but none may come with us and none of our possessions – not even the clothes on our back – will be coming with us.

When you think of it in this way – and this is certainly not the only way to think of what Jesus says here – but when you think of it in this way there is actually a sort of very dry humor in this gospel lesson. It’s almost as though the following conversation is taking place outside a movie theater:

A 12-year old boy walks up to the ticket window and says “What’s a ticket to Star Wars worth?” and the clerk says “about 197  million dollars, that’s what it cost them to make the movie.”

“What?! I don’t have that kind of money.”

“Oh, well, what do you have in your pockets?”

“Six dollars, a golf ball I found, and a piece of string.”

“Good news!” the clerk says “we just set the price at six dollars, one used golf ball, and a piece of string.”

What Jesus is offering us is of staggering, unbelievable value – beyond anything we could ever afford to achieve. Jesus is offering us life – and not just existence, but an actual life that is worth living, a life that fulfills the very purpose for which we were created – and even though the value of that life is beyond all measure or estimation, Jesus lists the price as exactly the one thing we that we happen to have: the price is one death, no more no less.

And in his graphic description of that death in today’s parables, Jesus is just reminding us that it’s going to happen to us whether we want it to or not. There’s no escape, there’s no dodging it, there’s no getting around it. We’re going to have to turn away from family, give up our possessions, and go to the cross of death with Jesus. The question is not “whether?” but “how?

Will the cross be forced upon us or will we take it up ourselves? Will we be dragged to Jerusalem or will we, like Jesus, set our faces toward it? Will we embrace the family of God or worship our families instead? Will we be dragged kicking and screaming into the Kingdom or will we count the cost, see the value above all else, and follow Jesus willingly into the Kingdom? Because one thing is certain: the only thing worse than crucifixion is fighting against crucifixion.

~ Jonathan Stepp

How God As Trinity Defines All

So what does all mean when we read the word all in the Bible as it relates to salvation? This is a question with which I wrestled for a long time in 2006. I literally spent months reading, praying, and seeking advice from more learned people than me to try and understand what the Bible means when it says things like, “…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”?

In the past I had great difficulty with these passages. Confession time… there was a part of me that still functioned out of a sense of wanting to belong to an elite group. I wanted to be in the clique. I wanted to feel superior to others… special perhaps. Well I was right and wrong at the same time. More on that later.


                   Photo courtesy of Microsoft Office Clip Art

So what about all? How do the Father, Son, and Spirit define all in the Bible? Well a fellow pastor in North Carolina named Rick Stillwell once told me that, “All means all, and that’s all that all means!” But is he right? Yup! I believe he is just based on what the Book says.

Jesus said that it was the will of the Father that not one would remain lost. Jesus said that when he was lifted up from the earth he would draw all of humankind to himself. Paul wrote to Timothy that Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all and he told the church at Colossae that Jesus had reconciled all things to the Father through the blood of his cross. Again in I Corinthians 15 Paul says that in Adam all die, so all will be made alive in Christ. Acts 17 tells us that Jesus gives life and breath and all things to all mortals. These are just a few examples.

But does all really mean all? Well let’s just ask a couple of questions?

Based on what we read in Romans 3:23… who has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? Answer: All! According to John the Beloved Disciple how many things were created by Jesus? The answer to both is a resounding all.

You see, if we accept the notion that all really doesn’t mean all, in our view of salvation, then we must accept that some people have not sinned, fallen short of the glory of God, and never needed a Savior.

If we accept that all really doesn’t mean all, in our view of salvation, then we must accept that there are some things in the Universe that came into being apart from the creative genius of God the Trinity.

The mission of the Church is not to get people in (although we may sometimes think it is) the mission of the Church is to declare that All means all… and that’s all that all means- and then teach people what it means to already be a child of the Father, through Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.

Bless you all, ~Bill Winn

Worthy Of Praise

Exodus 13-14 Red Sea”

Theological Theme: God Father, Son and Spirit magnifies His glory through His faithfulness to lead and save His people while bringing judgment upon those who oppose Him.

Christ Connection: God  the Trinity parted the Red Sea in order to make a way of salvation for His people. In a similar manner, God made a way of salvation for us by sending His Son.

Missional Application: The Relational and Triune God calls us to praise Him for His glory in salvation and judgment so that others will see and be compelled to join us in giving praise to Him.

*Photo courtesy of

The Redeemer Judges and Saves

Exodus 11-12”

Theological Theme: God’s righteous judgment is coming to everyone without distinction, but salvation is offered through the sacrifice of a perfect substitute.

Christ Connection: Just as a spotless lamb was sacrificed in order to spare God’s people from His judgment, so also Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb who was sacrificed in order to protect us from God’s wrath. He is the Judge Who was judged in our place!

Missional Application: God calls us to warn others of the coming judgment of God and to offer the good news of salvation through Jesus, the substitute Lamb.


*picture courtesy of:

Religious Animosity

St. Bartholomew displaying his flayed skin in Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment."

St. Bartholomew displaying his flayed skin in Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment.”

Yesterday was St. Bartholomew’s Day and it got me to thinking about religious animosity. Bartholomew was one of the 12 and the New Testament tells us very little about him, but ancient tradition held that he was a missionary to Armenia and suffered martyrdom there when his skin was flayed from his body. A millennium and a half later, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, Roman Catholics in Paris launched a massacre that went on throughout France for days and killed thousands of Protestants.

So, on a day remembering how religious animosity cost an Apostle his life, religious animosity cost thousands more their lives.

Trinity and Humanity is founded on the idea that God the Holy Trinity has united all of humanity to the Divine nature through the incarnation of the Son as the man Jesus. If that idea of union between divinity and humanity has any meaning it must, at least, mean this: religious animosity must end. We cannot believe in the God who has redeemed the world through Jesus Christ and at the same time hate Muslims, slander Jews, and laugh at Hindus, Wiccans, and Atheists. We cannot believe that Jesus brings humanity into God and then ignore the profound humanitarian crisis of Muslim refugees from places like Syria.

We cannot say we love Jesus and then endorse actions that express hatred for our Muslims brothers. If we are all included in what Jesus is doing then there is no place for animosity against, persecution of, or even neglect of those with whom we disagree theologically.

By his martyrdom St. Bartholomew points us to the reconciling cross of Christ and calls us to begin living the Kingdom now – a Kingdom where our natural tribalism around our belief systems is washed away by the love of God.

~ Jonathan Stepp

What Plank?

wood plank courtesy of“So you can encourage certain student behaviors by putting in place positive consequences,” the speaker at an education conference said. “If you want to encourage students to be on time for class, schedule a quiz at the very beginning of class that is worth some points. This will encourage the behavior you want.” The speaker was a behavioral analyst, and her tips for encouraging certain student behaviors in the classroom (and discouraging other behaviors) were insightful. Her talk made me think about how we often try to control others’ behavior and choices.

This is particularly true for parents, and it’s difficult to let go of the reins as your children mature into teenagers and young adults. I would also say that it is difficult for many churches to permit the free moral agency that God has allowed humanity. When I compare a church’s response to my own response as a parent, I see a similarity in the area of misunderstanding our responsibility.

When our children are small, it is our job as parents to protect them and guide them, but as they grow up, it’s understood that parents must let their children make choices and learn to live with the consequences.The church also sometimes views its members as needing protection and firm guidance; however, the difference is that members of a church are typically adults who need to have the agency to make choices and take responsibility for those choices. When a church is operating appropriately (i.e., supporting and encouraging members), the membership will most likely have a wide representation of moral views on contemporary issues. In this atmosphere of love and support, diversity with unity is encouraged and love for all is emphasized.

Jesus addresses this issue beginning with the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Though this is worthy of a much longer blog, I find it helpful to think of the first two chapters (Matthew 5 and 6) of  the Sermon on the Mount as a way of being present and properly judging my own thoughts. In other words, these scriptures help me realize when I’m off-track in my own thoughts and need to re-think my priorities.

Chapter 7 in Matthew begins Jesus’s discussion of our tendency to judge (and consequently, try to control) others. This is where we as parents and as the church tend to go astray because we fail to permit others the freedom to make lousy choices. We assume that our viewpoint is the right one, maybe the only one, not understanding that we are not omniscient. Instead, we are caught up in our own culture, class, upbringing, experiences, and a whole host of other influences.

Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3, NIV). The “plank” is our tendency to believe we have a responsibility to change others by attempting to control them. Once the plank is removed from our own eye, we understand that our primary responsibility is to control ourselves and our own thoughts, not others. Without a plank in our own eye, we “will see clearly to remove the speck from [our] brother’s eye” (Matt 7:5) by being able to see it’s not our job, but God’s. In fact, when we do strive to manipulate others, even by offering gifts or positive outcomes that they want, they can feel resentful and distance themselves from us. Matthew 7:6 says they will “turn and tear you to pieces,” rejecting even a desirable gift because of the motivation to control.

Behavior analysts like the speaker at my conference can provide insight into the way humans respond to consequences of the choices they make. While promoting positive classroom behavior is helpful, it’s important to recognize that we have a plank in our eye that we cannot see, and so does everyone else. Our responsibility is not to change or manipulate others but to surrender them to God, allowing the Father, Son, and Spirit to work wholeness and healing into all of our lives.

~by Nan Kuhlman

photo courtesy of



Breaking News: Jesus Is Renewing T/His Church! pt.3

Spiritual Gift 2”

This message of Good News leads to an attempt of a congregation to participate with Jesus as he inspired the Apostle Paul to write in Ephesians 4 :7-13 (The Message):

“Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”


*picture courtesy of

Always the North Star

north-star-1A Facebook friend noted recently that in life he senses from God nothing but pure divine love and acceptance for his very self, heart and soul – but that his ego (false or transient self) is under constant, tireless assault.

And I recognised that in my life, this is true as well.

It wasn’t always so to this degree, and I thank God it wasn’t. How many of us as young people could have withstood it? Youth is generally a time of building up. And happily so. We toil for and taste the successes that we have built on our own, seemingly. We think that we are getting our acts together and that we are performing in life well.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have parted with the shell of my 20-something self if I had been given a choice.

But no one is given that choice.

The beautiful reason behind this is that life, past a certain point, is about the tearing down of our egos and false selves because they are not us at all. I liked my shiny, young, strong, bulletproof self! – but that self began to die the moment I became a mother and saw that I could care for another more than for myself. That transient self and all that followed no more defined me than will someday my wrinkles and white hair.

And really, what better way to accomplish the revealing of our True Selves than via the aging process when everything that is not eternal and not of God is slowly stripped away to reveal what is?

It’s amazing when you think about it. Aging makes no sense humanly speaking. My human tendency is to want to become more than I am, not less than I have been.

But our human eyes miss so much that is of true importance. If we are open to the lessons being taught to us, we become less arrogant, supercilious, contemptuous, know-it-all, smug and swaggering. Our footsteps may slow, our once proudly held heads may begin to bow a little.

But in all of these cases, less really is so much more! What has grown within us — our ability to love unconditionally, to accept others without evaluation, comparison and judgement, and to deeply trust that all is well with us despite our circumstances — is invisible to the human eye.

God is not interested in our projections of ourselves — or in all the ways we believe we measure up and qualify. He is not interested in what we get “right” theologically.

He is interested in what lies deep beneath that – in the part of every one of us that is indescribably precious to him, and that also has the capacity to grow. Our souls. Our True Selves.

I believe that soul growth is our reason for living this often difficult life.

And, seemingly at least, unfortunately for us, this kind of soul growth only occurs with the help of loss and pain. We learn much more from our failures than from our successes.

“Our ongoing curiosity about our True Self seems to lessen if we settle into any ‘successful role.’  We have then allowed others to define us from the outside, although we do not realize it. Or perhaps we dress ourselves up on the outside and never get back inside…” ~ Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond.

Is it any surprise that no one settles into a “successful role” permanently? Falling down makes us more loving, and tolerant and understanding of others when they do the same.

All of this can feel painful and it is painful. But while pain can be the direct result of cause and effect, it isn’t always. Sometimes there is no explanation and nothing we have done to cause it. Loss only feels frightening when we cling tightly to the impermanent things that are fading, rather than lovingly, mindfully letting go. And trusting that though certain things fade from our sight, they are not gone forever. I am often encouraged by the scene in C.S. Lewis’s famous book and conclusion to his Narnia Chronicles, The Last Battle, where Prince Caspian dies, is raised, and becomes young again.

And it is not all bad even in this life.

One study showed that the age at which people report the most contentment is 56. Another that happiness peaks twice in a lifetime: at age 23 and again at age 69.

Perhaps this is true for those who have wisely learned to let go, and to trust the waves of life to take them where they will, because even if they end up shipwrecked, He is always with them.

Perhaps this is true for those who have seen that throughout the tempests of life, there is always the North Star shining just over the horizon.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

Note: Much of what I write these days is inspired by my continued reading of author and Franciscan, Richard Rohr. I am reading Immortal Diamond at the moment – highly recommended!

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