"The moment the word 'why' crosses your lips, you are doing theology."
—When Life & Beliefs Collide                

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Momentum continues to build for the Synergy Women's Network. Last year, contributions from WhitbyForum subscriber covered all of the Synergy2008 scholarships. So before 2008 winds down, I want to give you another opportunity to become part of what we are doing.

Below is the full text of the letter we're sending to our Synergy newletter subscribers, which I also wanted to share with you. If you're a Synergy newsletter subscriber, then consider yourself doubly-invited to join us in supporting this signficant effort!

It Takes a Network!

Every once in a while God starts something new.

Five years ago that happened in Orlando. It all started with a few isolated conversations. Women in growing numbers were enrolling in theological seminaries and entering into fulltime Christian ministry. Opportunities for women were limited, yet ironically, doors were opening up as never before.

Little did we know what God was about to do.

Five years and four conferences later, Synergy is a thriving international network, fueling the kingdom efforts of women in vocational ministry throughout the world. Our conferences provide unique opportunities for women to connect, exchange ideas, go deeper spiritually, and collaborate on strategic issues and opportunities of today and in the future.

One young woman who flew in from China for Synergy2008 wrote this on her return flight home:

I cannot put into words what a tremendous encouragement the entire weekend was for me. From one amazing conversation to fabulous workshop to great speaker after another, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of God’s kindnesses and encouragements to me throughout the weekend! The whole conference felt deeply rooted in both heart connections and strong biblical/theological foundations to fuel such a fire. I left feeling empowered and energized to pursue the gifts God has given me!

Synergy Women’s Network (SWN) continues to strengthen and expand. We have formed a strategic alliance with Gifted for Leadership, an online publishing arm of Christianity Today and Leadership Journal. I am writing a regular Synergy column—“Think”—for FullFill Magazine, an innovative MOPS publication for women in ministry leadership. A wide range of leading seminaries, denominations, and parachurch organizations are represented at our conferences.

We’re convinced God has more in store for us.

Today, SWN has reached a major milestone in our development where we must transition from a volunteer based organization to employ leaders who can take Synergy to the next level. The expanding levels of our activities and the amazing opportunities that are opening up necessitate this transition. Specifically, we are looking to hire an executive administrator, a webmaster, and a director of communications.

Will you join us?

We know you are already supporting other ministries and we do not wish to take away from these other commitments. We are also aware that everyone is feeling the financial stresses of the current economic crisis. Yet, despite all of this, we are confident that God’s hand is on this new work and trust Him to raise up friends to join us in funding this exciting effort. We hope you will be among them.

If your heart is with us, if you share our vision, if you want to become part of this ground breaking movement, will you consider Synergy as you plan your year-end giving? And will you also consider becoming a regular Synergy supporter in the New Year?

Looking to the future,

Carolyn Custis James
President, SWN

Donate Online or send your tax deductible donation to:
Synergy Women's Network, Inc.
P. O. Box 782128
Orlando, FL 32878-2128
Please mention WhitbyForum with your donation.
For questions, contact newsletter@whitbyforum.com

Monday, November 24, 2008

21st Century Gleaning

Saturday a scene played out in Platteville, Colorado that looked like a page straight out of the Old Testament book of Ruth. I heard it on the morning news. Boaz-like levels of generosity echo through this story.

Chris and Joe Miller, a farm couple who had finished their vegetable harvest, decided to open their fields so members of the surrounding area could come and harvest what was left.

That sounds like gleaning to me.

The Millers expected around 5 to 10,000 gleaners. Turns out their estimate was wide of the mark. On Sunday 40,000 people showed up to harvest about 600,000 pounds of potatoes, carrots, and leeks.

One women who was heading home with a load of vegetables remarked, "Everybody is so depressed about the economy. This was a pure party. Everybody having a great time getting something for free."

What a great thanksgiving story! One can only hope the economic downturn will inspire more surprising acts of compassion and grace like this from all of us.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Holding Fast

We're coming up to the two year anniversary of the death of Frank's brother Kelly James on Mount Hood in December 2006. Those of you who have lost a loved one will understand when I say that even two years later the journey of grief is still new to us. Kelly left a big hole in our lives, and that is especially true for Frank. This has been a time of deep spiritual reflection and honest wrestlings with God. You can read more about that on the Three Mt. Hood Climbers blog.

Karen James just released her book, Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy, in which she recounts those harrowing days of crisis on Mount Hood in which her husband Kelly and his two climbing partners, Brian Hall and Nikko Cook, lost their lives.

In the book, she tells the story of her relationship with Kelly, their shared faith in God, and her personal journey with grief. She also employs her expertise as an investigative reporter in her search for answers of what went wrong. Her conclusions are endorsed by search and rescue experts who were involved in the efforts to find the missing climbers.

Saturday, November 15, on the Today Show, Lester Holt interviewed Karen about her book. To watch the interview, go here.

She's also launched a website about her book: http://www.holdingfastforpurpose.com/

Be sure to look up Frank's article, Balm for Broken Hearts

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Wall Street Apostle

In the aftermath of the 2008 U.S. presidential election, the word “change” is still on everyone’s lips. Change was the central theme of both campaigns and the exclamation point in President-Elect Obama’s victory speech: Change has come to America!

What strikes me as strange about our American enthusiasm for change (and count me in as someone who wants to see change!) is that at the moment we are knee deep in changes we didn’t vote in, yet are powerless to stop. The current global financial crisis has us watching daily stock exchange reports like soap opera fanatics. Everyone is on edge. The unpredictable shifts and surges of global politics and power are introducing changes that are frightening and changes that create exciting new opportunities.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about change, not so much because of the election, but because of a large box UPS deposited on my porch last Spring. Inside was a 1500 page manuscript (over 10 inches thick!)—a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew that I had agreed to review. The timing was terrible. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What happened afterwards has been eye-opening for me.

Before that box arrived, I never paid much attention to Matthew. He’s one of the forgotten apostles who gets eclipsed by the more prominent figures—Peter, James and John. Yet, as I started thinking more about Matthew’s story and how it smolders beneath the surface of his writing, his Gospel started to come alive for me, so much so that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

Take for example what Matthew is teaching me about change.

Anyone who knows Matthew’s story knows he desperately needed change. Caught up in one of the most notorious, unethical, and lucrative professions in Israel, Matthew was a charter member of the club of individuals about whom it is fair to say, “Greed got the best of them.” I have a hunch that if Matthew were alive today (at least the pre-disciple version of him) he’d be right in the middle of the current financial crisis as part of the problem.

His job was to collect taxes for the occupying Roman government from his fellow Jewish citizens. That was bad enough. But as the deal went, he could pocket whatever extra he could squeeze out of hapless tax payers, which is exactly what he did.

Like today’s golden-parachute CEO’s, Matthew’s financial prosperity came at a steep personal price. First century Israelite tax collectors were among the most despised members of Jewish society. Instead of gaining stature from his impressive portfolio, Matthew was shunned and mistreated in a hundred different ways. Pharisees spoke of tax collectors with utter disgust. No doubt Jesus’ other disciples found it hard to stomach the admission of a tax collector to their inner circle.

Matthew is one of several biblical characters (like Rahab the Harlot and Simon the leper) who never seemed able to shake his past. Although other biblical writers graciously drop the derogatory descriptor, in his own Gospel he stubbornly lists himself among the other disciples as “Matthew the tax collector.” Evidently it was important to Matthew that we remember where he was when Jesus found and rescued him.

But Jesus isn’t simply in the business of saving souls. He’s in the business of bringing change. There’s a kingdom to restore, and Jesus’ agenda for change begins with people. Matthew is “Exhibit A.” Jesus called Matthew to “Follow me!” (Matthew 9:9). A call for change is embedded in Jesus words. Change was also implicit when Jesus called others to, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).

I never put those two imperatives together until recently. When I did, I began to wonder if I had stumbled upon clues to Jesus’ strategy for change—golden safeguards, if you will, designed to keep believers moving steadily along the path of Kingdom change that Jesus means for us to travel.

The Greek word for “repent” means “to change your mind.” It’s not enough to quit a corrupt tax collection business and find a more suitable line of work, although that was surely a start for Matthew. Nor is repentance confined to occasional moments of remorse over lapses along the way, although that is important too. These narrow definitions of repentance can leave us thinking we’re doing just fine—that repentance is for others. Which is exactly what the Pharisees thought. The true definition runs much deeper, exposing the most godly, mature believer to profound reasons to repent.

Repentance addresses the fact that at a systemic level we are all out of alignment with our Creator and with our noble calling to be His image bearers. God Himself pointed out the utter seriousness of our problem when He said,
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
According to God, that's a pretty wide gap, and we all suffer from it. Jesus' call to repent summons us to work at change, at shedding layer by layer our kingdom-of-this-world thoughts and ways, at making intentional strides towards becoming who God created us to be. Admitting and reminding ourselves that we are out of alignment with God is the place for us to start.

Make a U-turn. “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near!”

“Follow Me!” completes the thought by identifying where we need to go and who is here to help us. Matthew’s Gospel is unambiguous when it comes to defining the changes Jesus has in mind. Matthew pursues change for himself by spending time with Jesus. Studying His ways. Weighing His words. Comparing himself to Jesus. Repenting the disparity and imitating what he observes in Jesus. And all the while, Matthew himself is gradually changing—embracing a Kingdom perspective on money, a Kingdom attitude towards society’s outcasts, and a Kingdom selflessness that contrasts sharply with the grasping life he left behind.

Read Matthew’s Gospel and see what a recovering tax collector wants us to know about change!