For centuries the story of the prodigal son has been called “the gospel in the Gospel.” If across the centuries this is the way the church has seen this parable, how is it that the atonement appears to be missing in the story? If the cross is essential for forgiveness, why does it seem to be absent in this parable?

If this kind of question intrigues you…stay tuned! I’m going to be updating my front page with a series of reflections from Kenneth Bailey’s The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Part One in Luke 15 series

How do we typically understand the offense of Jesus’ table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners in Luke 15:1-2? We’re usually taught that Jesus was breaking the social rules (which he most certainly was). Yet why would breaking the social rules warrant the leaders’ determination to eliminate Jesus? When you and I break social rules, like sharing a meal or a hug with a homeless person on the streets, nobody in power threatens to eliminate us.

There must be something we’re missing in our reading of this passage.

Consider the follow contextual perspective that might shed some light on this or at least stimulate further reflection:

Israel was occupied by imperialists. Tax collectors were considered, “agents of the Empire.” In Jesus’ day, nationalistic forces were gathering strength. For Jesus to eat with such folks was seen as a betrayal of the nation and its God. Throw into the mix, “sinners” who were considered unclean socially and religiously, and Jesus’ table-sharing act of acceptance and belonging was quite offensive.

Yet this needs further unpacking.

Remember that Israel had a collective identity as a nation. The leaders were guardians of the nation’s faith and destiny as a people. Jesus’ table-fellowshipping with tax collectors and sinners spoke symbolically to Israel’s leaders. It said loud and clear, and quite graphically: This is a look at Israel’s future…what do you think? Given Jesus’ reputation as a religious leader, the widespread following he was acquiring, and the authority he assumed, this made him a threat to the nation. For the leaders of Israel would never accept Jesus’ table-sharing vision of God’s kingdom as a sign of Israel’s future! And, who was this Jesus to even suggest such a thing?!

Let me know what you think of this perspective on the text.

Friday, November 14, 2008

George W's theology

What is the Jesus Pledge?

A movement of Christians from the United States who feel compelled at this time to reaffirm our allegiance to Jesus as Lord and Christ, and the cross as God’s way of overcoming evil. We, therefore, pledge our allegiance to Jesus and the pursuit of God’s kingdom above all else, and renounce allegiances to nation that in any way compromise our calling and identify us with war and the use of force instead of Jesus’ life-giving love displayed in his earthly ministry and in his death for the world on the cross.

We confess that Jesus is Lord, the full revelation of the God of the Old Testament and that before Him every knee will bow. We confess that Jesus is Christ, Israel’s Messiah, and Savior of the world who conquered the power of evil on the cross. We agree with Jesus’ call to undivided allegiance to God: "No one can serve two masters…” (Matt 6:24), and “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…and your neighbor as yourself.” We also reaffirm that: “God so loved the world…” and now sends us with that same love to our society’s outcasts and our country’s enemies. Like Jesus, we must say ‘yes’ to the kingdom of God, and ‘no’ to all allegiances that compromise the furthering of that kingdom.

As followers of Jesus Christ who are citizens of the United States, we are troubled when God’s name is overly identified with our country’s wars and laws through Christians remaining silent or actively promoting them as ordained by God. We believe any union between the name of Jesus and our government and its leaders is both idolatrous and a hindrance to the witness of the Church. Killing our enemies and enforcing dehumanizing laws in the name of God deny Jesus’ call to love our enemies and to join him as a “friend of sinners.” This is the time for genuine, widespread repentance and change.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, and in keeping with my baptismal vows:
I renounce allegiances to the world and nation that would lead me to justify the use of violence, war or any type of force that are incompatible with Jesus’ teachings and his witness on the cross. I affirm God’s mission for the Church to serve as ambassadors of the kingdom of God, announcing forgiveness, promoting healing, peace and reconciliation – by loving and blessing those considered our enemies.
I renounce the flesh as it manifests in a spirit of national pride, superiority and self-interest that pursues our nation’s dominance for our own economic and material benefit and security. I affirm that my primary earthly place of belonging, identity and loyalty is in Jesus Christ and his body -- the borderless, worldwide family of God, and embrace his way of humility, service and love of God and neighbor.
I renounce Satan, the accuser and deceiver, and turn from his lie that America is God’s elect ambassador of freedom and Christian values whose mission justifies and requires the sacrifice of human lives. I affirm God’s kingdom as manifested through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and through his Church empowered by the Holy Spirit.

If you are a citizen of the United States and a follower of Jesus we encourage you to pray the above pledge and click here to add your name to the growing movement of Christians seeking greater faithfulness and commitment. (Website currently under construction. Watch for and sign the pledge. See also

Monday, November 10, 2008

My personal mission statement

In my life with God among the poor, in community with my brothers and sisters, and in my family I walk in God’s grace, listening deeply and obeying fearlessly, as a man of:

PRAYER...who walks w/ the Holy Spirit in the joy and truth of my Heavenly Father; grateful for his goodness, embrace, freedom and fullness.

VISION...who wages peaceful war against all that is contrary to God and the establishment of his kingdom, and waits in the hope of God’s promised new creation.

PEOPLE...who loves and empowers others as Christ did through humble service and in the power of the Holy Spirit

My life work…is to EQUIP teams and missional churches with (1) theo vision (2) spiritual empowerment, and (3) movement inspiration. To ADVOCATE (1) Jesus Pledge web campaign (2) Peace with justice in the Middle East. As a slum worker I seek to catalyze house churches that follow Jesus and the way of the cross.


November 2008

November 2008

Dear friends and family:

Recently, we hosted a visit from four young people that are considering long-term missionary service with InnerCHANGE and our team.

Bryan Carey, is from Virginia. Last year he interrupted his university studies to spend a year in the jungle of Peru. His experience was confirming in one way: he knows now that he is gifted and called to work cross-culturally in places of poverty. What he also discovered is that he wants to pursue that calling in the city, not the jungle.

Beth Carter is a Spanish teacher from Michigan. After teaching for six years, she came to point of knowing that career-wise she needed to either go deeper in her profession as a teacher or jump tracks to something completely new. Her long-term interest in Latin America and short-term trips to the region fed a desire to move herself there.

Jennifer Pare is from Texas, and a recent graduate from Wheaton College’s Master of Arts program in Inter-cultural studies. She spent four months in Brazil last year with a ministry called Word Made Flesh, where God gave her a heart for children in poverty.

Dave McMurray is from Kentucky and a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky. Like some of the others, Dave “found” InnerCHANGE through a recently published book entitled: “The New Friars” by Scott Bessennecker (InterVarsity Press), which highlights several ministries like ours that work in urban slums. Because this is Dave’s first cross-cultural experience he stayed a bit longer than the others.

As you may recall, recruiting has not been without difficulty over the past few years. In spite of the violence and visa constraints, we have found people ready and willing to take on the challenge. Adrienne, KT and Cameron are a testimony to this! Thank God for them!

By the first of November we should know how many of the new candidates will be joining our team, making the move by February or March, 2009. We appreciate your prayers as our team grows and potentially even expands into new barrios. God continues to use us in simple, yet profound ways…with neighborhood children coming to a tutoring program two afternoons each week, and in prayer ministry for the sick and demonized. Doors are opening to minister alongside the local Catholic priest and some of their home groups on our hillside, too. This has been very encouraging. I’m also working hard on my next book! (This one will be in English, too!)

Peace to all!

John and Birgit Shorack

October 2008

October 2008
Dear friends and family:

When Padre Pablo (Father Paul), the priest from the local parish, read Danza Divina (the book I self-published in February) he immediately invited me to join me for a special meeting. I call the meeting special because it was a gathering of his people, at a critical moment, and he wanted me (and InnerCHANGE) to be a part of it. Pablo picked me up in his personal, rather run down jeep. He picked me up because the meeting was held in my neighborhood, yet in a particular section higher on the hill that I’d never been to. When we pulled into a narrow alleyway which seemed to appear out of nowhere, we were greeted with friendly waves and ‘gritos’ (yells) of welcome. With the help of some young men Pablo managed so squeeze his car enough to one side of the path to allow the flow of pedestrians.

The purpose of the house meeting was to re-start two of their small, neighborhood bible groups. For most of the meeting I just sat there, at Pablo’s side, watching him do his work. I didn’t really know what to expect. What I did know was that Pablo trusted me enough to be there with him, and he wanted his people to know me.

At one point in the meeting, as the group was expressing their desire to go out weekly to visit homes, Pablo invited me to speak. “Hermano Juan y su equipo tienen mucha experiencia en eso.” (Brother John and his team and a lot of experience doing that.) This was the first and only chance I had to speak in the meeting. I didn’t know what I would say until the words came out of my mouth. “In our experience of visiting homes, one of the things we’ve encountered is people with spirits.” With a few more words I explained what I meant, which wasn’t hard. Virtually every head in the room was nodding in obvious resonance. They, too, knew of about demonic spirits.

The following week, teammate KT McClure and I went to a follow-up meeting in another home on the hillside. This time we met in a more in-depth, personal way with six women who are the core group of one of the re-started neighborhood bible groups. The leader of the group, a woman named María, probably approaching 60 years of age, was open to us. Because of what I shared the week before in the larger gathering, she said this to me (in front of her group): “Every time I try to do my personal prayers, an evil spirit manifests and stops me. Will you pray for me?”

We arranged a time for her to come to our office to receive prayer. God is so good. In short, KT and I were able to minister deliverance from the evil spirits that had been tormenting María. Then, God went even further. María’s daughter, Carmen, complained of a painful, aching in both arms from her neck to her hands. She had not experienced any relief from the pain for over three months. She asked for prayer. As we prayed for Carmen, I saw in my spirit that Jesus was present, standing behind Carmen and with loving arms touching each shoulder at the place of her physical pain. When I spoke this out to Carmen, she literally jumped up from her chair, turned to me with the biggest smile on her face and proclaimed: “That’s exactly what he’s doing!” Not only was Carmen’s pain gone, she was doused in God’s love for her! Pretty cool! Before they left, Carmen said to her mother: “Thanks to this experience with Brother John and KT, if any more evil spirits bother you, now we can take care of them ourselves. We know how to pray.”

Even before this exciting episode with María and her daughter, María had invited me to do a monthly teaching/training with her group once we returned from our summer furlough in the US. Please pray for this wonderful open door, that God would continue to move with his love and his power…that many would turn and know Him!

Thanks for your partnership in the gospel!

John and Birgit Shorack

September 2008

September 2008
Dear friends and family:

As you know our family has been in the US for the summer, taking a much needed furlough and vacation from the ministry in Venezuela. Among the visits we’ve made in August, we spent one week at Camp Cedar Glen in So. California at a gathering of InnerCHANGE missionaries worldwide. We had a beautiful time worshipping God, getting re-connected and re-affirming our “family ties” as a missionary community. In fact, the retreat was a chance for us to take a deeper look at what we mean when we describe ourselves as a “Christian order among the poor.” I want to take this chance to give you a glimpse into this, too.

InnerCHANGE was founded in 1985 when John Hayes moved himself onto an overcrowded and overlooked street in Santa Ana, CA, teeming with Cambodian refugees. Shortly after we joined InnerCHANGE in 1992, John Hayes began describing InnerCHANGE’s calling as both missionary and prophetic. What he meant by that was that our ministry among the poor has two faces, if you will. The missionary face displays the mercy of God in the streets and byways of the world’s forgotten places, raising up disciples of Jesus and forming communities of His kingdom. The other face, what we call our prophetic current, is simply, yet profoundly, using our lives to call the Church continually back to God’s intentions for the poor.

The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable embodies these two currents beautifully, reaching out in mercy and ministering God’s love to the injured in the road, while also prophetically, with his actions, providing the priest and Levite with a sovereign opportunity to examine their ways and they hearts.

Interestingly enough, in the late 90s our founder discovered that we as InnerCHANGE were also the injured one, the needy one in the road. In a very real sense, the intensity of the ministry, the pain and sorrows that we’ve encountered along the way, forced us to move deeper into what we’ve now recognized as our third current; the contemplative current.

In fact, we’ve discovered that it’s the dynamic interplay of these three currents – the missionary, the prophetic and the contemplative – that best expresses the unique gift we believe God has given us and best explains what we mean by “Christian order among the poor.” (Historically, Catholics orders have called that unique ‘gift’ given to a community its ‘charism’ – in case that word is familiar to some.)

Why share this with you?

From our journey as InnerCHANGE, spanning now almost 25 years and only hinted at above, you can see how we the missionaries have needed time to understand more precisely what God has been crafting us into. As our friends and family, standing with us all these years, we know it hasn’t always been easy for you to understand what InnerCHANGE is either. Yet you’ve always believed in us! Thank you!

Please remember us in your prayers as we turn a big corner in September when our oldest daughter, Johanna, begins her studies at Seattle Pacific University and the rest of us return to Venezuela.


John and Birgit