Christ is alive!

www.brethren.org/newandrenew

By Stan Dueck, director of Organizational Leadership and co-coordinator of Discipleship Ministries

Christ is risen!

This is the Good News of Easter. But is it really news? We know the story. We’ve heard it for years.  At times, it can be difficult to hear something new in this particular Good News.

Though this is the old, old story, our lives—renewed by the gospel of Jesus—are new each day. Every day is refreshed as we remember that Jesus Christ is alive, death has been conquered, our sins are forgiven, and we can live a new, confident, and courageous life. With the very real turmoil, distress, and risk of the world, our understanding of Christ’s victory brings daily renewal. The Easter response, “Christ is Risen, indeed!” echoes good news into each day. Though born centuries ago, Jesus is born again into our lives as we grow in faith. Though his resurrection occurred at a particular time in history, the resurrection power of Christ is ignited again and again as we connect with him through prayer, worship, service, and fellowship. Indeed, our faith endures because of new examples of how Jesus is alive in us and in the world.

Discipleship Ministries points toward new and renewing life in the Church of the Brethren. An example of this is the New and Renew Conference, happening next month (May 13-15). Once known as the Church Planting Conference, New and Renew emphasizes congregational renewal and new church starts. I have been encouraged to hear the stories of individuals who, after attending this event in past years, have planted a new church or provided leadership for the renewal of their congregation.

This year’s conference theme is “The Reward of Risk,” connected to Matthew 25:28-29a, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live.” Often around the topics of church planting and church renewal, we talk about the possibility of failure due to risk. But have we ever stopped to ponder the possibility of reward amid risk? What might it look like to celebrate those who have taken risks faithfully for the Kingdom of God?

Though pandemic detoured plans for an in-person gathering, we are hosting a new virtual conference for pastors, leaders, members, and anyone who is passionate about new life in the church. Together we will worship, connect, and learn. This three-day virtual conference will lead us to think in new ways about church planting, congregational renewal, and leadership. In addition to workshops, inspirational worship and keynote speakers will nurture calling and passion for ministry as followers of Jesus.

We have invited more nationally known thought-leaders and practitioners to share their rich ideas and down-to-earth practices that empower churches to be the presence of Jesus in their neighborhoods and communities, and to share the Good News. In addition to incredible Brethren leaders, the depth of this conference’s speakers has never been greater with leaders such as Christiana Rice, José Humphreys, David Fitch, Coté Soerens, Darryl Williamson, and Michelle and Aaron Reyes.

As something new, the virtual conference will allow people to participate who otherwise would not have the opportunity due to challenges of finances, travel, church responsibilities, and work or personal schedules. You can register to attend the live events from wherever you are, or view the recorded sessions—3 sermons, 3 plenary sessions, and more than 20 workshops and breakout groups—at your leisure. (Ministers can earn more than 2.0 CEUs for both the live and recorded sessions.)

Thank you for generously supporting and participating in the work of renewal happening through Discipleship Ministries. We deeply appreciate your prayers and partnership. Together we declare that Christ is risen, confidently and courageously share God’s love, and walk toward a bright future.

Learn more or register at www.brethren.org/newandrenew, or support Discipleship Ministries, who hosts this life-changing conference, at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Creating a mosaic together

Read a reflection by Nancy McCrickard in this week's issue of eBrethren.
(Feel welcome to save this image and color it on your computer or on paper.)

By Nancy McCrickard, Mission Advancement advocate

Each time I receive an issue of Messenger magazine, I glance at the articles quickly and then turn to the back for the “Turning Points” section to review recent deaths. Later, I go back and read the articles more thoroughly.

Why, you may ask, do I look at the “Turning Points” section so intently?

Over the last three years of serving with the staff of the Church of the Brethren, I have formed relationships with many people across the denomination–people who are faithful, passionate supporters of the church.

As a Mission Advancement advocate for the denomination, I work to build relationships with ALL individuals who support the Church of the Brethren through their generosity of time, talent, and resources (regardless of the size of the gift). Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have “serenaded our supporters from the balcony” through phone calls, personal letters, handwritten notecards, emails, text messages, and Zoom meeting visits.

We have also embraced the paradigm shift in religious giving:  from a traditional perspective that is often summarized as “fundraising is raising money,” to an emerging paradigm that suggests that “fundraising is nurturing generosity” and that supporters are collaborative partners.

We have sought to make our supporters more than a name on a page or a number in our database. And each week in our Mission Advancement team meeting, I share donor stories from correspondence over the past week that have inspired me so that all of us can be inspired together.

Subsequently, while reading the list of deceased members in Messenger, I find myself pausing to reflect on my fondest memory of that person. Memories like:

  • visiting a woman who was a missionary with her husband in Nigeria and seeing the original manuscript he wrote that led to books about their work;
  • telling a retirement community resident that it was okay for us to stop talking long enough for him to take his medications from the nurse (and not keep her waiting any longer);
  • having lunch with a couple and videotaping an impromptu scripture reading for them for an online worship service;
  • sharing a bag of Herr’s potato chips with two supporters at Annual Conference in 2019;
  • spending time with a widow after the death of her husband (who had passed shortly before a previously scheduled visit), hearing stories about his life as a Church of the Brethren pastor;
  • talking with a gentleman on the phone (a few months before he unexpectedly passed away) when he reiterated his commitment of support to the Church of the Brethren;
  • giving a loaf of blueberry bread to a couple to express gratitude after the gift of a beautiful, homegrown lily on my previous visit, and receiving a call at the end of the week so he could report they were “fighting over the last piece of bread”;
  • working from the home of supporters who graciously hosted me for a few days, enjoying meals together, walking with them to a nearby yard sale, and shedding tears as we departed, knowing that we likely would not meet again.

These stories uplift just a few individuals who have passed away in the past year and a half. All were just ordinary Brethren who have supported our denominational work. Many were also members of our Faith Forward Donor Circle (FFDC) after choosing to include the Church of the Brethren in their estate planning. I am honored to have met many faithful Christ-followers who have enriched my life and work.

Over the last few years, I have often said that I am hoping to learn from the individuals I meet, forming a mosaic of memories and experiences of those supporters. Each of these individuals have added one or more colorful tiles to the mosaic of my life. As a result, I strive to honor their legacy within the Church of the Brethren and to celebrate our shared mission.

In Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen noted that each of us adds a piece to the story of faith, like colorful tiles, and that together we reveal a beautiful picture of God’s face to the world.

Today, I invite you to consider the many “tile opportunities” in your life. How will the mosaic of your life take shape today, this week, this month, and in the years ahead? And, in the spirit of re-aligning perspectives: how might you add a spot of color to someone else’s life mosaic?

Blessings to you in creating your mosaic!

Learn more about the mosaic of the Church of the Brethren and its ministries at www.brethren.org or support its life-changing work at www.brethren.org/give.

Preserving church history

Read a reflection by William Kostlevy and a Messenger magazine quote in this week's issue of eBrethren.
William Kostlevy, director of Brethren Historical Library and Archives,
 presenting in a recent Facebook live event.

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

In the summer of 1981, I served an eight-week internship at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA). As a Bethany Seminary student with a master’s degree in history, it was a natural fit. But little did I realize that it would a life-changing experience that would lead to a career in archives management, new friendships, and an addiction to Brethren history.

On a normal day that summer I would ride from the old Bethany Oak Brook campus with the truly legendary Bob Faus, director of Ministry for the church. While many remember Bob for his wonderful sense of humor (which I enjoyed as much as anyone), I remember his generous mentorship and infectious love for the complex and diverse Church of the Brethren. In truth, I learned more about the Church of the Brethren from Bob’s marvelous stories than I learned from any class I took at Bethany.

My primary work that summer was processing the many smaller archival collections that had accumulated over the years. Many were collections documenting the work of the Church of the Brethren in Illinois and included papers of Illinois pastor and Bethany faculty member J. W. Lear and his equally accomplished wife, an ordained minister named Martha Lear; Brethren educator C. Ernest Davis; the Civil War era diaries of John Emmert; and the many small collections of Illinois congregations. To this day the names Cerro Gordo, Lanark, and Polo conjure up images of ordinary rural Brethren serving and transforming their communities in unexpected ways. I met many remarkable volunteers that summer including former Messenger editor Kenneth Morse; founder of the Fellowship of Brethren Genealogists, Gwen Bobb; and the very interesting Edith Barnes whose memories of the church and Elgin dated from the arrival of her father to head the Mission Board in the 1920s.

My summer in the archives opened unexpected doors to work in the archives of the University of Notre Dame, a rare PEW Charitable Trust funded opportunity to create a comprehensive list of manuscript collections documenting the Wesleyan Holiness tradition at Asbury Theological Seminary, and archivist positions at Asbury Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary. All of these culminated in me returning as the director of the BHLA in 2013.

As director of the BHLA, I have sought to continue the work of my predecessors Jim Lynch, Ken Shaffer, and Terry Barkley. Our primary task is to preserve the heritage of the Church of the Brethren and make documentation of that heritage available. In this role, I have experienced the truly worldwide significance of Brethren witness with visitors and outside researchers from India, Nigeria, Sweden, Belgium, Spain, Korea, and especially China, using BHLA materials to tell the story Brethren service and mission in their respective countries. Working with gifted interns Keith Morphew, Andrew Pankratz, Kelley Brenneman, Aaron Neff, Fred Miller, Haley Steinhilber, Maddie McKeever, Zoe Zorndran and Allison Snyder, I have attempted to highlight the uplifting stories of the largely unknown figures who witnessed to and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ in unforgettable ways in Europe, North America, and around the world.

In May of 2013, I had the opportunity to spend a day with Dale and Lois Brown acquiring one of the most important manuscript collections documenting the Brethren story in the second half of the twentieth century and, more personally, the papers of a friend and mentor. Equally important were trips acquiring the papers of Warren Groff, Donald E. Miller, and later Gene Roop, another favorite and important personal mentor. Other adventures included a trip to Santa Barbara, Calif., to interview the noted actor Don Murray who raved about his experiences as a conscientious objector, completing alternative service with the Church of the Brethren in Europe. I especially enjoyed interviewing Esther Frye, member of Mount Morris (Ill.) Church of the Brethren, who clearly recalled an afternoon spent at the home of Bethany Theological Seminary co-founder at E. B. Hoff, ninety years earlier.   

I will never forget the Chinese visitors whose enthusiasm for the work of Brethren missionaries in Shanxi Province reminded me that the Brethren story is truly a story that is not limited to North America. But closer to Elgin, I think of the truly extraordinary courage of Harold Row in offering Nathan Leopold, one of the most notorious figures of the last century, a chance to serve humanity outside a prison wall. Or the Indiana farmers who sought to end war and hunger by providing livestock to those in need. Or Anna Mow sharing the old Pietist dream of the possibility for all of us to have a new meaningful life in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the end I am truly grateful to the Church of the Brethren for the priority and support given to the BHLA, and for giving me the privilege of having the job of a lifetime. Thank you for supporting the life-changing work of the Church of the Brethren and helping preserve our remarkable and rich history.

Learn more about the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at www.brethren.org/bhla, or support this Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/giveBHLA.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Words of life

Photo by Russell De Boer

By Ed Woolf, director of Finance and Treasurer

In March of 2018, Loyola University had an improbable run in the Men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament. With dramatic game winning shots, winning the first three games by a total of four points, and then beating a high-ranking team by a large margin, it seemed as though they were destined to play in the national championship game. Unfortunately, their run ended in the semi-finals.

Along with the team’s dramatic run, many also remember Loyola’s most famous fan—Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the team’s then 98-year-old chaplain. Sister Jean became a household name as she was interviewed regularly after games and was visible on TV as she cheered from the sidelines throughout the tournament.

Last year, as she approached her 101st birthday and in response to the growing pandemic, Sister Jean concluded a prayer for her alma mater with these words, “As the days go by, let us continue our team spirit. Let us bring happiness and joy to others. Let us ask our God to continue to protect us with our love.”

Words have purpose and meaning. They can divide, instill fear, and break people down, or they can empower and inspire others, lifting up their hearts and building them up. Surely, Sister Jean’s pre-game prayers and sage advice to the Loyola players were impactful, an important part of the team’s spirit that led to their success.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us to use our words to build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. In other words, we are called to use our words to speak life to one another, just as Jesus speaks life to each of us.

The last year has surely been a difficult one. It has been challenging to experience and hear stories of families being physically separated for long lengths of time and it has been heartbreaking to miss out on so many meaningful events that are important to us. In this socially distant environment, it could be argued that our words to one another matter even more now than ever before.

At this time when our Brethren value of hands-on service and our call to follow WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) may still be restricted, we must also consider WWJS (What Would Jesus Say). It’s important to remember that we can also be the hands and feet of Jesus to those we come in contact with every day through our words.

Even when we cannot meet in person, we can send a heartfelt text message or email to someone going through a difficult time. We can share something inspirational on social media. Or, a more novel idea, we can write a letter or perhaps send a post card (like those in the 2020 Annual Report “Living Letters,” still available for free by request) to friends or family who live far away. We can look over our fences and encourage our neighbors with a kindhearted word, giving them strength for whatever challenges they are facing. As the family of God, we can pray for someone whom we might not have thought to pray for before; another way to pray without ceasing.

There are also times when we, ourselves, are going through a difficult time and need to hear words of assurance. If this is the case, we can seek inspiring words wherever they can be found. We can talk with a dear friend. We can also look for encouragement in God’s Word, a daily affirmation, a devotional, a favorite hymn, or perhaps a Messenger article.

No matter how we choose to speak life to one another (or receive them), we are called to carefully choose words from the heart that are affirming, positive, genuine, life-giving, faith-filled, purposeful, fruitful, and inspiring. To faithfully follow Christ and the Word of God, our words will outdo one another in showing honor, reveal love to our neighbors and enemies, and put others ahead of ourselves.

Whether through seasons of victory or of difficulty, may we, like Sister Jean (who still serves as the chaplain of Loyola’s basketball team), continue our team spirit and choose to speak words of life to one another.

Learn about how the ministries of the Church of the Brethren speak life at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Let love flow

Photo by Craig Thompson

A theme interpretation written by Rev. Erin Wathen for the 2021 One Great Hour of Sharing

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that many western world constructs that were intended to create a sense of safety actually promoted a false sense of security. In a global crisis, we were faced with a danger that defied our usual protective hedges. While some were made more vulnerable by economic and geographical factors, everyone was affected by the virus.

As it turns out, lines on a map don’t stop the spread of disease; a pandemic does not recognize human-made boundaries. Whether we like it or not, our lives are deeply intertwined. Our well-being is bound, inextricably, to that of neighbors close to home, and those halfway around the world.

The sooner we recognize that human interconnectedness, the better we can let love flow—generously and indiscriminately—to those who need it most.

When water comes to a village, everything changes. Improved sanitation promotes health. Crops thrive, providing food security and better nutrition. People can provide for their families and care for their communities today while also planning for the future. In the same way, when our love flows, brothers and sisters around the world are sustained through difficult circumstances and their lives are transformed.

Isaiah 49:8-12 articulates a stunning vision for a world of justice and equity; a world where everyone has enough, and all live in safety and abundance. It is also a vision for a healthy world of interconnectedness. In this vision, what is good for you is also good for your neighbor; what is good for one country is good for the whole world; and what harms any one of us harms us all.

That Kingdom-oriented vision in our shared ministry through One Great Hour of Sharing is much like the stream that runs through Isaiah’s Kingdom vision. Human-made constructs too often hinder human thriving.  A world built on that sort of imbalance is counter to God’s dream for creation. To help bring about that more just and abundant vision for humanity, One Great Hour of Sharing supports ministries around the world that create opportunities and empower communities. This includes:  farmers participating in educational opportunities and working to establish food security; volunteers preparing for a year of Christ-like service; Brethren pastors, leaders, and members sharing in meaningful conversations and events; and individuals encouraging people and rebuilding homes affected by disaster.

In many ways, our world was not prepared for the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic. But because of your past generosity through One Great Hour of Sharing, many communities were better prepared to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19. Through your past support, more people were equipped for the crisis and were empowered to prevent the spread of disease among their family and neighbors.

And when you continue to give generously, you continue to give life to people in need around the world. You continue to build on the dream of a world in which there is no thirst, no hunger, no suffering… just the abundance of life. 

When you share what God has provided, you “let love flow.” The love that we give—and the love that we receive from those who partner in ministry with us—crosses all sorts of spaces and dividing lines, knitting together a better human family, and bringing the Kingdom of God to earth in our time.

When you give to One Great Hour of Sharing, you support people near and far in tangible and spiritual ways. When you “let love flow,” lives are transformed—for the glory of God and our neighbor’s good.

The suggested date for this years One Great Hour of Sharing is March 21. Find worship resources or learn more at www.brethren.org/oghs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

One Great Hour of Sharing 2021

Worship resources for the 2021 One Great Hour of Sharing of the Church of the Brethren

Community as a call for justice

Brethren Volunteer Service - winter The Volunteer newsletter

By Naomi Yilma, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 325

“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

According to a press release from the People’s Vaccine Alliance, 9 out of 10 people in poor countries are set to miss out on the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021, while rich countries have hoarded enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations nearly 3 times over. During a pandemic that has affected millions across the globe, the need for a beloved community becomes ever more urgent. This is a community that, according to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is based on the love of one’s fellow human beings and, in turn, puts the just treatment of all humans at the center of its values. In recognizing the humanity of those around us, we would work towards systems that give everyone in the community access to healthcare, food, and shelter, especially in crisis situations. In a beloved community, we would prioritize giving vaccines to those who bear the brunt of the health and economic fallout from the pandemic.

At my project with the Church of the Brethren’s Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, I have contributed to a series of blog posts on simple living, racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice. My work so far has helped me recognize the interconnectedness of our society and the systems that exist within it. It has helped me recognize that systemic injustices that were fostered over decades play a huge role in magnifying the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. I have also learned that issues of justice are multidimensional and must be approached as such. In the words of former BVSer Susu Lassa, “Climate justice is economic justice and economic justice is racial justice.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached that the end goal of non-violence is a beloved community. As we build a beloved community that encompasses all forms of justice for all people, advocacy geared towards equitable distribution of resources and opportunities should take center stage.

This article was originally featured in the most recent issue of The Volunteer newsletter published by Brethren Volunteer Service. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/bvs or support it today at www.brethren.org/givebvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Make room

A woodcarving featured at New Carlisle Church of the Brethren.
Photo by Traci Rabenstein

By David Steele, general secretary

In these early days of 2021, I have found myself not only caught up in the unsettling events of recent weeks, but also reflecting on the last several years of life together in the Church of the Brethren. One cannot deny the pain, fear, brokenness, and division inside our church, neighborhoods, and world. The impact of the pandemic is real for many, but the cold and hollowness of division and the “us” versus “them” mentality pervades not only our culture but our church. Republican versus Democrat, progressive versus conservative, liberal versus evangelical, and the list goes on. The fences we have worked so hard to build in our neighborhoods—to protect ourselves from the things we fear or to keep those who do not believe like us on the other side—are now making it difficult for our neighbors to find us and, more significantly, making it difficult for us to reveal Jesus in our neighborhoods at a time when Jesus is needed most.

I grieve the place we have arrived in our life together, the families and congregations that have been torn apart by a vote, and the congregations, friends, and family who have left us. I mourn the loss of our ability to gather at the table to study scripture, pray, and have fellowship together without being suspicious of one another. I lament that we as the body of Christ struggle to celebrate the values, priorities, and hopes that we hold in common. And most of all, I regret that, for some, our faith in Christ and our commitment to follow him no longer seem to be enough.

During Advent, I was drawn to the words of the 2017 Casting Crown’s song Make Room. The song tells of the Savior’s birth into a fearful, lost, and hurting world, and offers the invitation to make room in our hearts for God’s story to be written in us and among us. This became my prayer for Advent and Christmas, and remains with me in this new year.

In this season of struggle and challenge, how are you making room in your heart for God’s unfolding story? Are you opening yourself to opportunities to participate in God’s redemptive work? I am excited about the renewed possibilities of God’s story within the Church of the Brethren as we prepare for our conversation and affirmation of the compelling vision at Annual Conference, together with the Mission and Ministry Board’s new strategic plan that is oriented around “Jesus in the Neighborhood.” These movements are worth celebrating.  However, before authentically finding this posture, we must make room in our hearts for a new chapter of God’s story by first acknowledging and praying for God’s blessings on those who feel called to ministry outside our fold, and second, by spending time in self reflection, repenting for:

  • failing to build up the body and contributing to division,
  • casting judgments on others and believing that we are right,
  • putting personal needs and preferences before the needs of others,
  • wielding power and influence against others,
  • using social media to tear down brothers and sisters in Christ,
  • believing that enforcing polity and policy will fix division and brokenness,
  • withholding prayerful (or other) support from the family of faith,
  • harboring a lack of grace and forgiveness,
  • diminishing the personhood of others and not loving our neighbor as ourselves, and
  • (add your own).

For us to make room in our hearts, we need to let go of what stands in the way of allowing God to write God’s story. In our broken and hurting world, country, and church, may we make a commitment to one another to make room in our hearts so that we can, with a renewed sense of call and purpose, be united in our efforts to live for Jesus in our neighborhoods.

Learn more about the 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.)

Service is never unbearable

BVS volunteer Evan Ulrich works at a Rebuilding project in Dayton, Ohio.
Photo courtesy of Evan Ulrich

By Evan Ulrich, member of Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 325

Dayton, Ohio, was never on my radar for places to live after I graduated from Juniata College. However, as a member of Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) Unit 325, I found myself signing up to spend my year of service with Brethren Disaster Ministries’ (BDM) Rebuilding Program.

And I am so glad I did. BVS helped steer me toward volunteering with BDM—an organization that allows Brethren (and anyone else willing to pick up a hammer) to act upon our shared belief of serving others. In that case, that means serving others by rebuilding homes that were destroyed or damaged by natural disasters.

What I find unique and remarkable about BDM is its long-term goal. Each site focuses on long-term recovery. After all the media coverage and initial assistance has died down, BDM comes in to pick up where others left off. Sometimes even years after a disaster there is still much work to be done.

As I write this there are two sites open for volunteers—one in Bayboro, N.C., to assist those hit by Hurricane Florence in 2018, and the other here in Dayton. Our site is located a few miles east of downtown, in a recently closed Presbyterian church. Our work encompasses the greater Dayton area as we help rebuild homes damaged when 15 devastating tornadoes ripped through the area on Memorial Day in 2019.

Due to the type of disaster, the majority of our work involves repairing damaged roofs, installing new siding, and performing interior repairs due to water damage. Hanging and finishing drywall seems to be a never-ending project. I’m getting lots of practice! The work can sometimes be tedious, hot, cold, and occasionally quite odorous. Added on top of this is the duty to keep everyone safe during the pandemic and adhering to all COVID-19 safety precautions.

But helping fellow humans through love is never unbearable. It is a true blessing and the highest privilege to lay your needs down and pick up the needs of a stranger. I am grateful for being able to see this occur every day with the volunteers who come out.

Being a part of the site long-term, I have the opportunity to see the timeline of recovery over its full span. Each week brings something new: a different set of volunteers, and a different energy. But what never ceases to amaze me is the amount of quality work that gets accomplished by even the most inexperienced group of volunteers. Everyone has an important job, no matter the skill set.

One survivor of a disaster expressed his gratitude by simply saying how nice it was to not have rain coming into his house. This short statement made me step back and realize how many comforts we take for granted—and how important it is for us to safely serve others through love.

Brethren Volunteer Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries are ministries of the Church of the Brethren. Support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

This reflection was originally featured in
Messenger magazine.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Transformed by the Christmas story

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

As we draw near to Christmas—after a year that posed many faith-testing issues in our global community, in our country, and in our denomination—I find myself spending time in reflection about what the Christmas season means for humanity. We will soon celebrate and be filled with hope by remembering the birth of our Lord and Savior. What peace it brings to us to know that God loved us so much that Jesus was sent to take our place on the cross and was resurrected so that we might have the opportunity for life eternal through him. But in a time of uncertainty and unrest, are these truths enough to help us get beyond the reports through the news outlets that we hear or the posts on social media that we read (or write ourselves) that can prompt anger or grief? How does the message of Christ’s birth change our perspective and how does that perspective reach a hurting, angry, lost world?

I struggle with all of this. These are questions I find myself wrestling with personally and as I serve our denomination. I try to remind myself that it is not my political identity, my theology, or my personal opinions that define me. What defines me is my relationship with Jesus Christ. What shapes who I am is connected to who I serve and what I believe in. The day I accepted this “babe born in the city of David” into my life, into my heart, as my Lord, Savior, Master, Redeemer, is the day I died and was resurrected with a new Spirit, the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that entered Christ on the day of his baptism. It’s the same Spirit that cast out demons, made the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and brought a sick girl and Lazarus back from the clenches of death.

On the I dedicated myself to Jesus, my life was no longer my own, but his. My thoughts are not my own, but his. It is not about my will or my wants, but his will. Does the church need to regain this vision? Have we listened more closely to the rhetoric of the world than to the powerful voice of the One who created all things and for whom all things were created? 

So God sent his Son—now what? We could almost stop there, and, indeed, let’s sit with this challenging question for a moment and let it linger in our mind and wrestle with our spirit. However, let’s also look at Hebrews 2:10-18 to learn more about this babe lying in a manger.

“For this reason he [Christ] had to be made like them [us], fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).

Jesus is our leader, our captain of salvation. He was made to be like us so that he could later intercede for us. Because of this, he and we are one, and he is not ashamed to call us “brethren,” his brothers and sisters. He knows us as his family. 

He understands what it means to be in our skin—figuratively and literally. He suffered so that through his sufferings we would be given a way to reconcile ourselves back to our Heavenly Father. He died and came back from death in order to conquer it so that we—as his brothers and sisters, joint heirs of the Kingdom of God—no longer need to fear the grave. Death has no meaning to those who have accepted the gift of the One whom wise men traveled to see, and shepherds visited to worship. 

He became human in order to become a compassionate High Priest and an atoning sacrifice for our wrong doings through his own suffering and temptation. Because he physically lived on this earth, he more fully understands our lives and can identify with our human struggles. Living and dying as a human and then being resurrected, and thereby conquering death, puts him in a unique position of being both sibling and Savior to us. 

Since Christ entered our world and scripture has imparted this understanding about him to us, how might we bring this transformative message to others? Here are two thoughts for us to consideration:

1. Personally, we work to move beyond the political and social noises that attempt to make everything acceptable and pleasing to us, so that we can hear God’s voice guiding us to be “light and salt” in the world. In 1 John 2:15-17 we are told, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Our love and attention for God is to surpass all earthly things.

2. Together, we continue the work of Jesus, to share and live out the good news of his peace, his unconditional love, his way of reconciliation, and his gift of salvation.

Even after Christmas and into the new year, may the Christmas story that tells of Christ’s first coming also transform us in ways that will show the world “another way of living”—one that is counter-cultural and against the norms of the world, and one that continues the work of Jesus until he returns.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or make a year-end offering to support them at www.brethren.org/year-end-offering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)