Blessings Box

Members of the Nokesville Church of the Brethren participating
in the Blessings Box dedication service.
Photo courtesy of Nokesville Church of the Brethren

By Angela Finet, pastor of Nokesville (Va.) Church of the Brethren

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35, NIV).

At the beginning of 2017, our Sunday School class began a study of the Lord’s Prayer. When we got to the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread,” it gave us pause. We pondered, “What would it mean for us to live each day wondering where we would get food?”

After discussion and prayer, we decided to join the “Blessings Box” phenomenon. Our box is a large, upright Rubbermaid storage container that sits unlocked on the corner of our church property. Inside are 4 shelves filled with non-perishable food, laundry detergent and dish soap, diapers and wipes, and personal hygiene products. The box is identified with a large sign that reads “Blessings Box” and smaller signs that read “Take what you need,” and “Share what you have.”

Earlier this year, we held a service of commissioning as part of our Sunday worship service, and since then, the box has taken on a life and ministry of its own. We’ve learned that there is a tremendous need for these items here in our community. People are taking and sharing virtually every day. As a result of the box being available 24/7, we’ve also noticed a decrease in the number of people calling to ask for financial assistance.

The best way for us to partner with area food banks is to focus more on the non-food items. Food banks do not provide diapers, detergent, and hygiene products. Additionally, since food stamps cannot be used for diapers, they have been most requested and taken from our Blessing Box. A parent cannot take her children to daycare if she doesn’t have diapers, and diapers cannot be bought without going to work for income. It’s a real catch-22 for some families!

We have also discovered the need for food dramatically increases when the schools are closed. Children who receive lunch assistance really suffer when school is not in session, and we’ve seen that translate into a greater demand for food items during that time.

What has been most rewarding is seeing that people who receive help from area food banks want to participate in blessing others. We find that food items from food banks are being left in the box in exchange for toiletry and household items. This truly embodies “take what you need and share what you have.”

And we’ve reaffirmed that we are part of an incredibly generous community both inside and outside the church. Several area dentists have supplied toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss. Several individuals, including families from our Kid’s Club and scouting programs, have committed to making weekly and monthly contributions to the box. Even local businesses have joined in by hosting “diaper drives.” Folks who want to participate but cannot make financial contributions are invited to stop in and create “diaper packs”—repackaged bags of six. We have a cabinet in the church set up to store the packs so that the box can easily be restocked as needed. We also have those who pray regularly for this ministry and for all those who participate that all who give and all who receive will be blessed.

To say the least, the Blessings Box has been transformative for all who have given to and received from this ministry. Our church learned more about what it means to feed the hungry, offer water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, and work for God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” We hope that you will be encouraged and inspired by our story.

The Nokesville Church of the Brethren exhibits what it means to be a vital congregation of the Church of the Brethren. Their discernment process around the Lord’s prayer has empowered them to be “creatively intentional in outreach to new people” and to be an “instrument of God’s Kingdom.” What vision may God have for your community? The Vital Ministry Journey could help your congregation explore this question.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Peacemaking and serving

Nathan Hosler leading an Insight Session at the 2017 Annual Conference.
Photo by Donna Parcell

By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Public Witness

If all politics were controversial before, they have gotten even only more so in the past year. We may ask, “How do we advocate—engage in policy debates with our distinctive voice—when our own body also experiences many divisions?” The Office of Public Witness as a ministry of the Church of the Brethren is guided by Annual Conference decisions. While these decisions are never unanimous, they do represent important markers of collective discernment. 

In the last few years, Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship, and I have been doing joint workshops at Annual Conference. In these discussions, we have worked alongside one another as an experiment in spiritual discernment and public witness. While public witness is often thought to trade in certainties and strategy and attempts to bring change, spiritual life and discipleship are typically seen as contemplative, personal, and private. While these generalizations may be somewhat accurate, it is our hope that our witness be built in discernment and theological reflection, and that our spiritual life outwardly reveals the peace of Christ.

As Brethren, we remain committed to following the way of Jesus and serving those in need. As a child and young adult, I was quite familiar with service: workcamps, work days at our local camp, making apple dumplings to sell at the disaster auction, and a number of other opportunities. I also learned that following Jesus meant being against war and for peace. In college and then serving with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria, I grew to understand that service and peacemaking are both local and individual, but also at many other levels of communal and global living. I now call these acts of faith done in the world “public witness.” The desire to serve and work for peace is part of our shared worship, prayer, and Bible study, and is both local and global. The Office of Public Witness is not the denomination’s group of little politicians but simply an extension of the work of service and peace that can be found throughout the Church of the Brethren in the United States and around the world.

We pray that you will be blessed as you connect faith and public witness in your own life and community. Thank you for partnering in this important work and for supporting the Office of Public Witness.

Learn more about the Office of Public Witness at www.brethren.org/publicwitness. Support this and other ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

United: serving the Lord together

Find worship resources for this year’s Mission Offering at
www.brethren.org/missionoffering.
Photo by Donna Parcell

A theme interpretation written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications, for the 2017 Mission Offering

“How wonderful it is when God’s people dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Indeed, it is wonderful to see the body of Christ work together as one. Every person feeling connected to the mission and giving of themselves to the Lord and to others.

It’s beautiful, but it takes work. It’s possible, but it requires intentional effort and a willingness to make mistakes and try again. The endless pursuit of unity is one we experience in our congregations, within our districts and denomination, and as we strive in ministry with our sisters and brothers around the world.

The obstacles to unity that we face are not unlike those that the church has experienced throughout history. The early church especially had some heavy lifting to do. We see a glimpse of their struggle and labor in Paul’s letter to the Romans. As the church grew and people of all nations were invited to follow Jesus, differences became more apparent and disagreements arose. In particular, the Jews still practiced meaningful faith rituals and tried to impress them on Gentile believers. In return, Gentiles either felt inadequate for not following Jewish practices or insisted that these rituals were no longer relevant for the life of faith.

Both walks of faith could be pleasing to God, according to Paul. A person could follow Jesus regardless of which day was honored as the Sabbath and God could be glorified whether a person abstained from eating pork or chose to eat it in fellowship with others. As long as a person lived unto the Lord and withheld judgment from others who did the same, unity with God and each other was possible.

Though the issues we face are different from the early church, God’s call for us is the same. And, while ministry may look differently for our sisters and brothers around the world, we are united to one mission: serving Jesus Christ. This is what we are committed to together. May we devote our time and energy to loving each other more fervently instead of focusing on the differences that could divide us. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are united, serving the Lord together.

Find a full order of service for the 2017 Mission Offering (suggested date Sept. 17) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or give to the offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

A passion to serve

Paige Butzlaff (left) and fellow volunteers of
BVS unit 313 serving during orientation.
Photos by BVS Staff

By Paige Butzlaff

Since high school I knew I would join Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS). Little did I know that it would shape me for the rest of my life. But what I’ve come to discover throughout this whole experience, from switching projects, from being hospitalized due to depression, from continuously doubting my capabilities to complete assignments, and to even doubting my own faith, I’ve come out stronger and more steadfast in the direction I want to steer my life. I’ve developed passions for things that make my heart sing. I’ve grown farther and yet closer to my faith than ever before. I knew BVS would be somewhat like college, where one leaves home and everything they ever knew to embark on a journey of discovering who they are and what they were put on earth to accomplish, and that’s why I wanted to join BVS.

When I was seven years old I wrote in my diary that I wanted to help “poor, needy and sick people.” I didn’t know it at that time, but that’s when I found my calling in life. I now know that I’m passionate about not just helping others, but serving them. Helping implies that someone is helpless, but serving implies that you are encouraging someone to find their own strength, not denying that they can take care of themselves. Helping puts the helper on a pedestal. But serving puts you right there with the person you are serving, so your humanity meshes with their humanity. Rarely do we get the chance to recognize our own humanity, let alone acknowledge others, and empathize with them, especially in the culture we’ve been born and raised in.

BVS has helped me be the person I want to be. I’m serving others in a capacity that I never thought I’d be doing, but it’s worked and I’m grateful for the opportunity. What’s allowed me to discover more about who I am as an individual and where I’ll leave my mark in this world is not only my work at the General Offices, but the everyday occurrences between places I visit and people I meet. I’ve learned so much about myself by attending Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, and I’ve met some incredible people there. My housemates at the BVS house in Elgin are inspiring people, and although we don’t always see eye to eye on issues, they have been super supportive of my journey and I have learned a lot about them as well. Who knows what’s in store for me after BVS, but I’ll always have this experience to look back on and thank God for providing me with this incredible opportunity.

Paige Butzlaff recently finished serving through Brethren Volunteer Service as a volunteer in Congregational Life Ministries. Learn more about the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org, or support them today at www.brethren.org/give . 

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Stewardship in the small church


A reflection by H. Fred Bernhard

“Tell those rich in this world’s goods to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money: which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19, The Message).

In 1995 my wife and I were invited to attend a stewardship conference. While there, I experienced a mindset change from scarcity to abundance, realizing that we as Americans are far richer than other peoples around the world. It changed my whole perspective on how I view wealth and material possessions.

Small congregations usually view themselves as congregations with limited resources, both financial and in people skills. Pastors of these congregations hear these responses: “We can’t do that; we don’t have enough money.” “We don’t have the time to do that; all of us are already too busy.” “We’re not like the big church down the street. Let them do that.”

From my own experience, I can testify that a bigger worshiping community does not mean a more effective church. Size may make multiple programs possible, but congregational vitality can be achieved in congregations of all sizes.

The common denominator is passion. Congregations who possess passion know that they can make a difference for Christ in their community and around the world. They know that, no matter how small, they can do big things for God. The secret is a passion for a purposeful, mission-­driven, congregational life. Persons are drawn to such churches because they want to serve.

A mission committee struggled for weeks trying to come up with ways to buy one heifer for Heifer International. With a little help from the pastor, the congregation caught the vision and turned it into a passion for a mission. The result was 32 heifers purchased and donated to Heifer International.

That congregation experienced a mindset change: from scarcity to abundance. What no one thought possible became a reality when they caught the vision and their compassion fulfilled the mission. In simple terms, they put their hands where their mouths were. It’s a spiritual condition, isn’t it? Giving isn’t about the receiver or the gift but the giver.

It’s a sign of our spiritual discipline. We give because it’s the only concrete way we have of saying that we’re glad to be alive and well. Giving is a way of taking the focus off the money we make and putting it back where it belongs—on the lives we lead, the God we serve, the families we raise, the communities which nurture us. Our spiritual condition can be summed up with this prayer: “No matter what we say or do, God, this offering is what we think of you.”

When your congregation, however small, puts its trust in God and changes your attitude from scarcity to abundance, amazing things will happen—things beyond your wildest imagination. Just ask that church’s mission committee!

Fred Bernhard is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and has served as a pastor and interim pastor in many congregations.

This reflection was originally published in Giving magazine, produced by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. E-mail ebrethren@brethren.org to receive a complimentary copy of the 2017 issue of Giving magazine.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Strengthening relationships

Jay Wittmeyer with Mr. and Mrs. Fafa Lawan Kapi from Chibok.
Photo by Marcus Gamache

By Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service

As executive director of Global Mission and Service, my responsibilities include strengthening relationships with our sister churches in other parts of the world. I recently returned from a trip to be with the Nigerian Brethren as they convened their 70th Majalisa (annual conference).

This conference was particularly significant for the Nigerian Brethren as they returned home after two years of displacement and exile. There have been ongoing efforts to de-Christianize the historic homeland of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN), and the Brethren counted it a tremendous blessing to be present in Kwarhi. To celebrate this and to express gratitude to the Church of the Brethren for assisting EYN through their time suffering, leadership invited me to participate in the Majalisa and deliver the opening sermon.

Among those present at the Majalisa were the governor of Adamawa State, who gave a speech, and his entourage. In response, EYN president Joel Billi shared. “We request a place. Our people have lived here for centuries,” he said, “and we want to continue to live here. We do not want to go anywhere else.”

Going to Nigeria also allowed me to visit Chibok for the first time. Chibok is about an hour from Kwarhi. The paved road finishes miles before Chibok and the remaining stretch is gravel with deep potholes. Chibok is noticeably drier than many areas and extremely dry in April.

The Brethren established a missionary presence in Chibok in the 1930s, started a school, and even established a Bible school. (To my amazement, I learned that the Bible school still holds classes and currently has 13 students.) Long-term mission worker Gerald Neher wrote several books focused on his time in Chibok.

Despite its deep Brethren roots, however, Chibok became known internationally on April 14, 2014, when the radical sect Boko Haram drove dozens of heavily armed vehicles into the compound of the Government Girls Secondary School and forcefully abducted 276 girls. This prompted international outrage, reflected in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. (Our prayers continue for these girls.)

The Nigerian security forces have a heavy presence in Chibok. But since I was traveling with Paul Yang, EYN district secretary, we were given permission to enter the town, visit EYN churches and the Bible school, and meet with EYN families. What had a significant impact on me in Chibok was seeing the youth brigades practice their marching. They are tasked to assist in patrolling the community and to alert the security forces of any attacks.

It was inspiring to meet Laban Wadi, an EYN member who, despite the attacks, decided he and his family should stay in Chibok. They were forced to flee and spend eight nights in the bush, but otherwise have been safe living in the town while others on the outskirts had to flee. Laban retired as a medical assistant, a trade he learned from the Brethren. He expressed gratitude for my visit and asked me to bring greetings to Brethren in the United States. He mentioned Roger Schrock, Owen Shankster, and Roger Ingold, and was saddened to learn that Gerald Neher passed away last year. Laban was baptized by Gerald in 1958. Laban also reported that the last rainy season was good and he harvested 30 bags of peanuts alone.

On our way back from Chibok, we stopped to see the church in Uba. When Boko Haram attacked the area in 2014, they went from town to town burning churches by the hundreds. EYN lost 250 large churches, and the church at Uba was among them. The congregation is now meeting under a temporary structure as it works to raise funds to rebuild. Several thousand members attend worship every week and the footprint of the new church is very large. It will not have wooden rafters and will not be easily burned.

When you give to the Church of the Brethren, you support new and ongoing partnerships around the world. Your prayers and financial contributions make it possible for relationships to grow and communities to thrive through the partnerships of Global Mission and Service. We are so thankful for your support of this important, life-changing ministry of the Church of the Brethren.

Learn more about the work of Global Mission and Service at www.brethren.org/global. Support this and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give.  

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Unplug, refresh, and change perspective

Photo by Traci Rabenstein

By Traci Rabenstein, congregational support representative

Every spring, with summer just around the corner, I dream about the beach! Squishing sand between my toes, sitting in a beach chair with a good book, people watching, and all around enjoying the majesty of the ocean—the mighty work of God.

A couple of years ago, I went to the Outer Banks in North Carolina with my mother and childhood best friend. We did several things during our week together, but watching the sun rise on the Atlantic Ocean was a favorite activity. Those tranquil moments were great for reflecting on life and God’s creation. The quiet, beautiful setting served as a powerful reminder of how awesome our Creator God is, and I found solace in those moments.

Unfortunately, those moments of peacefulness were (and are) fleeting. Just a few weeks after returning from our trip, I found myself in a tense and stressed posture. It was as if I had forgotten how to relax and feel centered. Looking out my office window and pondering what my life had become, I considered what it would take to unplug from the issues I dealt with.

My thoughts wandered to an article about what it means to “reboot.” Author Peter Bregman shared a story for Harvard Business Review about having Internet connection problems and becoming frustrated. Initially, instead of trying to fix the issue, he ignored it and worked to complete an article for his editor. After finishing the article, however, he still couldn’t connect to the Internet. He tried everything he could think of, which included yelling at the computer, but was unsuccessful. Then he remembered something that had worked before. He unplugged everything—the computer, the router, everything—and waited.

As he waited, he realized that his frustration and annoyance drifted away, and he wasn’t as angry about the situation as he was originally. He shares, “It’s strange, because one minute is so little time, but when the time was up, I felt noticeably different… [and] oddly refreshed. My situation hadn’t changed, but my perspective had.”

Changing our perspective is purposeful work and something that we need to practice regularly. A volatile mindset can become the agenda of our day, and lead us into a rhythm of hostility and lashing out at others when we get frustrated. However, as Christ-followers, we are called to a different rhythm. One that says, “love one another.” It is often easier said than done, and it can even seem easier when interacting with strangers than with one another, but it’s the work we’re called to do.

What can we do to unplug, reboot, and change perspective in the situations of life? It’s a difficult question, but a cherished Bible verse of my great-uncle might help: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2. NKJV).

May we be willing to unplug from the grind of life, find time and space to refresh ourselves, and allow our perspective to be changed by the wonderful work of God around us and in us.

The ministries of the Church of the Brethren can help you or your congregation unplug, refresh, and change perspective. Learn more about them at www.brethren.org or support them at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Investigating a Brethren myth: A connection to the Peace Corps

Don Murray during his time in Brethren Service.
Photo from the Brethren Historical Library and Archives

By Bill Kostlevy, director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives

As is fitting for a people who gather around Scripture, Brethren also gather around stories of heroes in the faith. Unfortunately, given the lack of documentary evidence, early Brethren history is often shrouded in mystery. Documentation is sparse and the room for conjecture large. This is where the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA) enters the equation.

Tasked with the assignment of collecting and preserving the historical record of the Brethren experience, the BHLA is the repository for far more than the official agencies of the Church of the Brethren. It is committed to preserving the documentary evidence for a movement that has left a deep impact wherever its members have been. This includes local communities in North America, the establishment of hospitals and schools in India, Shanxi Province China, and Nigeria. Brethren also pioneered in evangelical and social justice outreach in locations like Denmark, Austria, and even in war-torn countries of Spain and Vietnam.

As a historian, I know there are certain commonly believed Brethren stories, and even strongly held beliefs, where supporting evidence is either thin or non-existent. Despite the beard, Abraham Lincoln was not secretly baptized into the Dunker fold. Nor did the early Brethren invent Sunday school. Or on a more controversial note, it is puzzling that folks who believed in no force of religion also disciplined erring brothers and sisters by disowning them.

The story of Brethren influence in the creation of the Peace Corps has always intrigued me. Did Brethren Service really provide the model for the Peace Corps? In an age of false news and alternative truth, I sought to find the answer to this question.

In November, I interviewed Don Murray—a conscientious objector to war, distinguished actor, and former Brethren Service worker. He served in Brethren Service from 1953-1956 working in Germany, among refugees in Naples, and later in Sardinia with both Brethren Service and the Congregational Church. In Sardinia, he organized the Homeless European Land Program (HELP) which on 130 acres built homes and established several businesses providing both a community and employment for refugee families. For Don Murray, Brethren Service was a transforming experience. As he tells the story, the Peace Corps was the product of an importune speech he made in Hibbing, Minnesota, in 1956. A recent co-star with Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop, Murray was asked to introduce the Democratic vice-presidential candidate at a campaign rally. When the vice-presidential candidate’s plane was late, Murray was asked to entertain the audience with stories from Hollywood. Since the New York-based Murray, who had spent most of the last three years in Europe, had little Hollywood gossip, he regaled the audience with stories of his Brethren Service experience.

Among those in the audience was Minnesota Senator and later Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. A serious Christian and Methodist, Humphrey was moved by the story and arranged an interview for Murray with President Dwight Eisenhower. Although not enacted during the Eisenhower administration, Humphrey’s, or as Humphrey called it, “Murray’s plan,” was subsequently introduced in Congress. It was this legislation that laid the ground work for the Peace Corps.

Today Don Murray, who became a member of the Church of the Brethren and considers his time in Brethren Service as one of the most meaningful experiences in his life, remains deeply committed to the values he learned from his Church of the Brethren. He was blessed with many Brethren friends and mentors including Dan West, Harold Row, Dale Aukerman, Ken Kreider, and Don Miller.

The interview with Don Murray is one of many treasures housed in the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. While there may not be evidence for some of our Brethren myths, it is inspiring to know that there is for this one. Don Murray’s story is a reminder of the power of the faith and actions of all who are willing to serve the world in the spirit of our Savior.

Learn more about the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at www.brethren.org/bhla or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Anticipating Annual Conference

Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Chris Douglas, conference director

I have looked forward to Annual Conference each and every summer since I became a member of the Church of the Brethren in the 1970s.

I remember so vividly an Annual Conference more than twenty years ago in which we saw story after story in David Sollenberger’s videos in the General Board Live Report of what the Church of the Brethren was doing in mission around the world. Then at the close of the live report, we stood and sang together, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.” I remember thinking, “all of the work of the church that I just saw really is MY story.”

There are many reasons why I love Annual Conference. It’s the place I see friends I only see once a year. It’s a place where we gather as a community to reflect on what it means to be Brethren and where we fellowship together, including with Brethren from around the world. And worship at Annual Conference is where we celebrate God’s majesty and holiness. Last summer I got goose bumps every time we sang, “Light of the World, into our darkness come.” We sang this at the opening of each worship time while candles were carried around the worship hall through the darkness. It was a wonderful reminder to be open to God’s leading.

This year’s theme, “Risk Hope”, is especially timely. Moderator Carol Scheppard’s monthly Bible studies have reminded us, “As we face the various storms of our times we gain strength and hope from the stories of God’s people in exile in Babylon.” When it is most difficult to find hope is the exact time that we must risk hope. This theme invites us to become a people who embody hope.

I am so grateful each summer when we can come together in person with our sisters and brothers to worship, sing, conduct business and fellowship together. Annual Conference also provides webcasting for persons who cannot be present so that, even from far away, Brethren can join in times of business and worship.

At its best, Annual Conference reminds us of who God is calling us to be as the body of Christ in the world. In the words of our mission statement: “Annual Conference exists to unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus.” In Grand Rapids this summer, may we take hold of the opportunities to unite, strengthen, and equip ourselves to follow Jesus!

Learn more or register for this year’s Annual Conference at www.brethren.org/ac .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Can these bones live?

Photo by Matt DeBall

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

“The hand of the LORD came upon me, and… set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones…. [God] said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord GOD, you know.’ Then [God] said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.… I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’” (Ezekiel 37:1-5).

Nothing reveals death and destruction more clearly than a large heap of bones. For Ezekiel, this vision represented the destruction of his beloved people—the destruction of God’s chosen nation. Ezekiel must have been horrified and full of despair as he surveyed this valley of death.

Though our circumstances may not be as dire as Ezekiel’s vision, they can sometimes feel very similar. Even without intentionally searching, it’s easy to find decay in our world—in the brutal destruction of human life, in the ever-widening chasm of animosity between opposing groups, and, in general, in the diminishing focus to care for all people. If God asked us if broken forms could be restored, our words might mimic those of Ezekiel—whether of despair (“O Lord, [only] you know [if it’s possible]”) or even disgust (“O Lord, [surely] you know [it isn’t possible]”). What reason could we have to respond differently?

Thankfully, the God who asks the question is also the God who answers it. In Ezekiel’s vision, God instructed him to prophesy to the bones, and in response, God breathed new life into them and regenerated those broken bodies. This was a promise of restoration for Israel, but was it just a vision or a metaphor? Surely such things don’t happen in real life.

As we approach Easter, we remember that God does more than tell wonderful stories. We remember Jesus, the Savior, who became a lifeless bag of bones but did not stay that way. Though the conditions of nature declare that dry bones cannot be re-animated, the Creator and Redeemer of all life is not bound by these principles. What was only a shadow of hope in the vision of Ezekiel is fully realized in the resurrection of Jesus. And what God has done once, God can surely do again.

The resurrection power of God still works today. The new life of Jesus is the new life that we experience in following him. The resurrected body of Jesus is represented each year in the new life of plants and flowers. Though we may not see renewal in all areas and realms of life, God invites us to speak to any pile of bones, declaring God’s promise for restoration.

May we have the courage to accept God’s promise for restoration and declare it to a world full of death and decay. May God once again breathe new life into dry bones.

Learn more about the work of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or make an Easter gift to the ministries that you love at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)