Sunday, October 31, 2010

Led By the Spirit or Driven By Need?

By Arloa Sutter

I have been leading Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago for eighteen years. We care for people who have become crippled by unemployment, homelessness and addiction in a neighborhood where poverty and crime make life stressful. Overwhelming brokenness and need carries with it the reality that there is always more I could do. People often ask what keeps me going. What keeps me from experiencing burnout?

Well, I have experienced burnout and it’s not pretty. When I was in my twenties I worked with kids who were referred to me by juvenile justice officers and school social workers. I met with groups of young girls who were in crisis. I loved taking them hiking, cross-country skiing and spelunking, but I was unaware of my own codependency tendencies. It felt good to be needed and I found myself pulled into the drama of their lives. I would get calls in the middle of the night to pick up a girl who had passed out drunk in an alley or to negotiate a family dispute. I once called 911 in desperation as a young woman overdosed on my living room floor. My work was compelling: girls in need, in pain, and in trouble, and they were looking for me to rescue them. But by the end of four years I was exhausted. I cringed every time the phone rang for fear of hearing about another suicide attempt.

I know now that much of my early energetic zeal was rooted in my own pride. I had entered ministry recognizing my need for a Savior, but then had begun to attempt to rescue and save others in my own strength on behalf of the Savior. The burnout I experienced as a result would forever change me as I learned the importance of waiting on God in contemplation before rushing in with my own agenda. I learned to be led by the Spirit instead of being driven by need.

Today I start each day in prayer. I ask God to orchestrate my day, to guide and direct me. I ask for Divine connections, for wisdom to know what to do and what not to do. I have learned there is always enough time to do what God wants me to do.

I also listen to my body. I have learned to recognize the difference between good stress that pushes me to my best, and bad stress that means I’m attempting to do something that is not mine to do. When my shoulders tense and my stomach knots, I do a “gut check” and ask myself if this really is my responsibility.

To be led by the Spirit rather than driven by need. That’s my goal. When the chaos mounts, I take a break. Even an hour of contemplation clears my mind and tells me which tasks need to be tossed to someone else and which are mine to juggle.

Arloa Sutter is the founder and Executive Director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries which provide services to homeless adults and runs a community youth program in an impoverished community on the west side of Chicago. She is the author of The Invisible: How the Church Can Find and Serve the Least of These.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sharing your Faith Part 2: Conversation Stoppers

by Jonalyn Fincher

When stumped by a difficult question about Christianity, have you ever been tempted to say, “I just take it by faith”? A simple, religious sounding response that keeps our faith safe and often deflects the anxiety we feel.

But it also stops the conversation.

Not because God doesn’t care about faith; He does. But because “take it by faith” in today’s culture sounds like we’re saying, “I have no idea; I just believe blindly.”

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, she writes, “If faith were rational, it wouldn’t be—by definition—faith. Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark . . . a leap of faith” (P 195). Gilbert, like many secular people, thinks religious faith means doing scary, often silly, things.

Haven’t you heard phrases like “blind faith” or “leap of faith”? Atheists and skeptics use their secular definition of “faith” as one more reason to mock Christians as blind and irrational. The skeptic’s dictionary defines faith as “a non-rational belief in some proposition.”

As an apologist this concerns me because God talks about “faith” differently. God wants people’s faith to grow out of knowledge (Search with the words “know the Lord”). God cares about his reputation among all peoples (Isaiah 45:5). He came to earth as a human because he wants to be known, loved and trusted.

In Scripture “faith” is synonymous with trust; we have faith or trust in the faithfulness of God. Faith or trust requires good reasons. Nowhere does God advocate “blind faith” or taking a “leap of faith.” These very words or concepts are never found in Scripture.

The more we know and can share about who God is, the more our faith and our friend’s faith grows. Faith and reason work together.

Imagine yourself praying for a friend’s healing. Will your faith be increased or decreased if God heals your friend?

Why? Because when we see God at work we have more reasons to trust him, and our faith grows. In fact, given how our own ears have grown accustomed to thinking of “faith” in non-biblical ways, practice replacing “faith” with the word “trust” as you read Scripture. You’ll get closer to the heart of the Bible’s meaning.
When sharing our love for Jesus, we need to be sensitive to the ways Biblical words are heard in our friend’s ears. Faith is a good word, but its meaning has been held hostage.

If we are going to share the good news of Jesus with others, we need to make a point to avoid the phrase, “Just take it by faith.” It does not help anyone step closer to who Jesus really is. It demotes Jesus into an item on the buffet of religion. By using this phrase we inadvertently tell our friends that Jesus is not real enough to know and we have no good reason to believe in him.

Jonalyn enjoys baby-wearing her new son, Finn, into coffee shops and striking up meaningful spiritual conversation. Pick up her and her husband's latest book Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk for more about sharing your faith. For more check out her blog ( or her first book, Ruby Slippers. Jonalyn is co-founder of Soulation (, a non-profit dedicated to helping others become more appropriately human. From their home in the Rocky Mountains, she and her husband, Dale, work as a national speaking/writing team.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Embracing Our Limits

By Adele Calhoun

Do you ever feel bombarded by a noisy, harried, do-more-get more-have-more sort of life? Life is good; but the balls you are juggling get going so fast that you can’t focus even when the moment overflows with delight? I want to be present to my life. I don’t want to be so distracted that the goodness of morning coffee and the springy glory of a toddler’s curls never show up on my radar screen. But the truth is I can be so restless and busy that I fail to notice all the things I am failing to notice.

What we notice or fail to notice shapes our lives. If I fail to notice how scattered, un-centered and out of touch I am with friends or family or my own soul, I have missed both my life and my limits. Life and limits may seem like contradictory things. After all we like to push the limits because we think we get more living in that way. But the fact of the matter is that honoring limits, rather than denying them, is one way we remind ourselves that we aren’t God.

Human beings are finite. Every one of us lives with limits. And it is the ones who recognize and embrace their limits that become free. Limits convey the truth of God and the reality of me:
· Every “yes” is a “no” to something. So I don’t say “yes” to everything. I weigh which “yes” will be the most life-giving.
· I can’t do everything. I need other people to help me. But they can’t help me if I don’t know what I need and ask them for it.
· Life is not meant to be lived at break-neck speed. That’s why it comes with day and night. The rhythm of rest is built into everything. Without rest I will become depleted and less aware of the very things that bring me joy.

Limits reveal my need and heighten my awareness of God. When I live with limits I am more likely to recognize peaks of joy as well as valleys of sadness. When I am able to recognize the peaks and valleys, I realize that the abundant life isn’t about success or comfort or control. It’s about living with the awareness that in limits God invites us to be free. And when we embrace this freedom, we can savor the moments that come laden with the presence and love of God. Because, after all, God’s love is the only thing in this world that doesn’t depend on our schedule or circumstances. It is limitless.

Adele Calhoun is the author of "The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us" and the forthcoming title "Invitations from God" (InterVarsity Press, July 2011). She co-pastors Redeemer Community Church in Needham, Massachusetts, with her husband Doug.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Evangelistic Tagging: Part One

By Jonalyn Grace Fincher

I recently unearthed my major difficulty in sharing my faith: I assumed that people who think differently about Jesus were dangerous. I felt afraid of them, and it showed.

At a book convention, I stood beside two Christian women as they responded to a secular book seller. He had just recommended a book that suggested all people go to heaven. I reacted inwardly much like the Christian women reacted outwardly.

“That’s not what the Bible teaches!” they retorted.

“The author makes some good points from the Bible . . .” the bookseller began.

“Well, if you read the Bible you’d know!” both were giving him a severe stare before they walked away.
When you hear someone distorting the gospel how do you feel? Do you ever think, “What can I say to this person in one minute—the only minute I have for them—that would convince them to repent and turn to Jesus?”

We burden ourselves with responsibility to convert someone or get out of there. We have no idea what it must be like to walk in their shoes, what help or solace their current beliefs give them. We only need to ask to find out, but maybe instead we’re just relieved that we brought God up in conversation. We call it spreading seed, but to our unbelieving friends our witnessing might feel more like the quick, cold-hearted work of a graffiti artist, “tagging” an area for dominance.

Tagging is a term I learned when I lived in Los Angeles. Gang members would spray-paint a wall of a building or underpass to claim their ownership. Friends I shared my faith with in high school later confessed to feeling cornered. They felt tagged as my projects.

When we moved to Colorado, my husband taught me another meaning of tagging. He purchased a hunting tag, which meant some elk had a death warrant on its head.

To those who don’t know Jesus our church culture can appear to be issuing hunting tags for their souls. We can even wield church sanctioned disciplines like apologetics or theology as weapons. In the process, we become more hunter and gang member than neighbor, failing to look into our neighbor’s eyes and notice they are people, not prey.

As a trained theologian and apologist, I find it too easy to judge people by their ideas before seeing the human that the Bible tells me is made in his image. But that has changed.

I’m learning to notice people’s eyes before I notice their words. I, like all of us, need to pause and ask myself better questions of those before me. What do they need? Are they friend or prey? How do I tell a friend about Jesus’ good news for them, with their pain, their needs, their questions?

In the process sharing our faith will look more like God’s unrushed, fearless love for this world and less like a hunter taking aim.

Adapted from Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk (Zondervan 2010).

Jonalyn enjoys baby-wearing her new son, Finn, into coffee shops and striking up meaningful spiritual conversation. Pick up her and her husband's latest book Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk for more about sharing your faith. For more check out her blog ( or her first book, Ruby Slippers. Jonalyn is co-founder of Soulation (, a non-profit dedicated to helping others become more appropriately human. From their home in the Rocky Mountains, she and her husband, Dale, work as a national speaking/writing team.

Monday, October 4, 2010

No Small Thing

By Shayne Moore

“What are you an authority on?” she almost sneered.

It was a sunny day and I was innocently walking down the sidewalk of my hometown on the way to get a cappuccino when I ran into the mother of a childhood friend. We stopped to visit and exchange what I thought were pleasantries.

She asked about the kids and my husband Johnny. We played catch up about this and that and then I shared the news that I had just received a book contract.

“A book? Really? What are you an authority on?”

I felt the sting of her comment. Either I was in shock and too slow to come up with a witty response, or simply too afraid of conflict. So I laughed and stammered something about how I am not an expert on anything.

I had never written a book before and I was full of self-doubt as it was. Her comment slogged around inside of me for a long time. The book I was starting to write was based on the concept that as regular women – for me a mom – we can really change our world with our efforts.
In the end, her comment helped to form and shape the book because I had to wrestle with what makes someone worthy of writing a book. I’m not an international policy expert; I do not have a degree in humanitarian or community development. I have only traveled to the developing world a handful of times. Who did I think I was?

As I wrestled and wrote, who I was became apparent. I was simply a woman with a story to tell. Global Soccer Mom: Changing the World is Easier Than You Think is a book about how I woke up to the reality that I could engage issues of human need on a global level. It is a story of my heart being broken by the things that break the heart of God - like extreme poverty and disease. A story about how I began to educate myself and, in the process, became passionate about educating others, particularly women just like me: busy soccer moms going a million directions yet who still wished to engage these issues in a meaningful way.

I learned that my voice matters and I got more and more involved with the grassroots advocacy group The ONE Campaign, now simply called ONE. I traveled to Africa and Honduras to see the HIV/AIDS pandemic first-hand. I was invited to attend G8 Summits in Europe to talk to press and put pressure on world leaders to keep their promises to the world’s poorest people.
The book comes out January 2011 and as I have journeyed my confidence has grown. I have come to believe I am an authority. I’m an expert on my story and on my heart. And that is no small thing.

I now write a column for FullFill™ called Worldly Women. I relish this opportunity as it gives me a space to do what I love the most: talk about what breaks the heart of God on a global level, educate others, and inspire everyday women like myself to real action. I believe as we live out our collective influence, and as we engage our stories with the stories of need in the world, we can and will make a difference.

Shayne Moore is the author of Global Soccer Mom: Changing the World is Easier Than You Think (Zondervan 2011), an original member of the ONE Campaign and an outspoken advocate in the fight against extreme poverty and Global AIDS. Her website is