God is working His Purpose out…
By Jeni Hiett Umble, Living Light of Peace Church, Arvada, CO
The 2018 Faith and Life Forum was a highlight for me. I have always been fascinated by the history and literature of the Bible. John Sharp, Professor of Bible and Ministry at Hesston College, sparked my interest with a comparison of purpose versus plan. Rather than think of God providing a specific plan, a more appropriate view is to think of God’s purpose. John gave an example of someone driving from La Junta to Colorado Springs. John can give specific directions (a plan) but the driver may make a wrong turn and call for help. John can then give new directions based on where the driver is located. The plan has changed. The purpose—arriving in Colorado Springs from La Junta—has not.
Purpose is broader than plan. Focusing on purpose rather than plan accounts for the ways that human beings take turns that may not be part of God’s original plan. Our gracious God continues to work with us so that God’s purpose is fulfilled.
By Peggy Owen, Glennon Heights Mennonite Church, Lakewood, CO
The Faith and Life Forum was certainly worth attending. John Sharp is a good storyteller and time passed quickly. Saturday’s sessions focused on a book authored by Marion Bontrager, Michele Hershberger and John Sharp, The Bible As Story. Not like a fiction story, but the story of God’s faithfulness over centuries, a story that continues even today, a story of inclusion, of God’s love for all humankind, of not giving up on people. Abraham and Sarah were “chosen” to bless all people on earth, not chosen as in, “You are my favorites,” but chosen as in, “You’re hired to do this job.” When the Israelites left Egypt, it was a multi-ethnic group that left, not only the Hebrew people. God included all who wanted to join the exodus. Later, Jesus made a point of breaking stereotypes and eliminating the barriers that separate people from each other. God’s story has always been one of inclusion because God has a heart for all peoples. Jews and Gentiles learned to worship together but had differences to iron out in the beginning.
John spoke about ways to study the Bible, not IF we study, but HOW we study. He explained the difference between drawing meaning from the Bible and pouring our meaning into the Bible. He stressed the importance of reading chapters before and after the verse we focus on to understand the context. Cultural and historical contexts are also important. A Bible commentary is very helpful. He gave a couple of memorable quotes, such as, “Any text without a context is a pretext.” “When scriptures disagree, Jesus referees.” meaning that Jesus is the clearest example of the way God wants us to live. And, “If there’s a conflict between theology and relationships, choose relationships.” “When dealing with an enemy, you can always listen.” There was so much more, so much to continue to think about. John said that the book he helped write contains most of what he talked about. I bought the book. (P.S. It’s available on Amazon.com)
Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear: Faith & Life Reflections
By Brian Hanneken, East Holbrook Mennonite Church, La Junta, CO
As Faith and Life Forum 2018 recedes in our rear-view mirrors, several elements continue to resonate with us here in the Lower Valley. First, we’re grateful to have had the opportunity to be host in our house, welcoming all who were able to travel to La Junta for the event. It was a joy to renew relationships, to catch up with old friends, and to make new friends – thanks to all in attendance, and especially to those whose efforts made F&L Forum the success it was.
Second, there is consensus out our way that having John Sharp as the F&L resource person/facilitator was brilliant. We appreciate John’s willingness to share his heart – and stories. It was extremely moving to have him model such transparency and vulnerability so intensely. May God bless John as he continues to be MJ’s voice.
And third (best and last?), our big take-away from F&L is the reprise of Bible as story. We at East Holbrook have been in relationship with Hesston College for generations. Our congregation includes alumni/ae, parents of alumni/ae, and prospective students. We are not strangers to Bib Lit: in the past, “our” then-students have presented their oral stories. We came home from F&L in continuing enthusiastic conversation about incorporating elements of The Bible as Story into our congregation’s formation – for our young people of all ages. F&L Forum may be fading over the horizon behind us, but “Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.” We are excited about the possibilities as we find use for these tools.
By Marilyn Miller, Beth-el Mennonite Church, Colorado Springs, CO
The 2018 Faith and Life Forum was graciously hosted by the Valley churches. I sensed a spirit of vitality and genuine fellowship throughout our time together. John Sharp’s input was filled with important learnings on how to view and interpret scripture. I received a new appreciation for the Old Testament where we can read stories of God’s first will for humankind and God’s remedial or second will when humans choose not to follow God’s first will. Old Testament stories pave the way for the good news we receive in the New Testament. John reminded us that Jesus is “the true image of God” and that Anabaptists interpret scripture in the light of the life and teachings of Jesus. “Where scriptures disagree, Jesus is the referee”. We were encouraged to interpret Bible verses through understanding what they meant in the culture and worldview of the time they were written. Was it descriptive or prescriptive?
John had us laughing with humorous stories that have come out of his historical work in the Mennonite church. He, also, had some of us tearing up as we heard stories of the life and death of his son, MJ, and how MJ worked to “change the world one life at a time.” I believe our individual lives, our churches, and our conference can better “PURSUE GOD’S DREAMS BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE WAY OF JESUS CHRIST” as we study scripture in the way that John recommended to us and which is described in the book The Bible as Story by Marion Bontrager, Michele Hershberger, and John Sharp. This is a book I recommend having in our church libraries and studying and discussing with others.