Thanksgiving Reflections

Though since Nathan was released to Susan and I from the hospital, it’s been easy to be thankful.  As everyone knows, life never really goes as planned.  I’ll turn 32 this Christmas Eve and my wife had thought since we married soon after college that we would have 2 or 3 kids by now and then be talking about adoption.  Today, I wouldn’t have changed a thing but it was a tough road getting here.  Grateful for the endurance that the Lord gives. 


All my life I learned that if there were solutions to almost every problem.  How many times was I struggling in a class but aced the big project and the final and got the A?  In tennis, I prided myself in coming back and forced an extra set?  When you’re sick, go to the doctor and get a prescription for antibiotics.  Feeling distant from the Lord?  Spend some more time seeking Him.  Said something insensitive to my wife?  Spend time seeking the Lord!  Add ministry, family relationships and friendships, car problems, etc, etc, and you get the idea.   But not all problems have solutions. 


At our church, I was given the job of roaming around with the mic for a time a time of sharing during our Thanksgiving Eve Service.  It was nice sharing as a community.  People said some beautiful things and I was touched.  My wife shared too and I was very grateful for her words  (She also went first and I appreciated that as well).


That doesn’t mean it’s been the easiest year.  My grandmother died this year after fighting years and years of a lung disease.  I miss her very much but grateful for her life and faith. Grateful especially that one of my most prayed words were answered when she met Nathan on Mother’s Day.  She had just gotten released from the hospital and we had just got him.  This year  was the first time in years that Susan truly looked forward to the day.  My sister flew in from AZ, all the family gathered at my grandmother’s house – it was great. Since we were without a senior pastor, I was given the privilege of preaching and it became a very special service.  It just all came together that Mother’s Day. 


Besides my family, I am grateful for the students (and their families) that I get to serve.  Thankful for our new senior pastor.  And most days, I sincerely enjoy working with our staff.  I’m honored to be a part of our church and am so appreciative of their support in my seminary education.  Then there are the countless friendships that I enjoy. 


I could go on and on, I am just in that mode right now.  And I know I haven’t written anything on salvation (Please don’t be that guy/girl who comments on that because this whole post is about that).  I spent some time thinking about previous years.  I also thought of those who were hurting this year.  For many it’s the first time without a parent or their spouse, widowed or divorced.  For many, it’s yet another without their child.  I hurt for those who spend their holidays in hospitals or planning funerals.  Car accidents and news reports of terrorists grieve me more on holidays.  So do the genocides all throughout the world and other tragedies.  I know this points to some flawed thinking but truth is, these hard realities plague me almost every day – less of course on the days that I am more self-seeking.


May the Lord be near those who are hurting today.  May the Lord be faithful to those who have praised Him and to those who have forgotten Him.  To Him, I give thanks.

Rick Warren Interview – "After the Aloha Shirts"

After the Aloha Shirts an interview with Rick Warren by Timothy C. Morgan of Christianity Today.

This is old to those of you who see everything on the internet the moment it hits.  But I just finally got around to reading this (twice) and really appreciated it.  

Part of me wants Rick Warren to go further and another part of me is thrilled that he’s gone this far.  Many pay attention to him and for those who are reluctant to new ideas and changes, he is among their very much needed leaders.  

Here are a couple exerts, hope you read the rest:

“The “p” in PEACE 2.0, “Promoting reconciliation,” has replaced “Planting churches.” Why did you make this change?

Two years ago, I did this 46,000-mile trip in 45 days. We literally went around the world. [What] I saw in every single country were conflict and broken relationships. In the Philippines it was between the two major evangelical networks. In Seoul it was between the charismatics and the Presbyterians. In the Middle East it was between Arab and Jew. In Rwanda it was between Hutu and Tutsi. Everywhere I went there were broken relationships. Everywhere we went, we had to be bridge builders, moderators, and peacemakers. Get right with God and get right with each other.

When I looked at the PEACE Plan, church planting was the only [point] that had a prescribed method. We are still doing church planting, but now we put it under partnerships with the local church. We don’t expect government and business, the other two legs of the stool, to do church planting. But there are biblical principles of reconciliation that apply to everybody. If you listen before you speak, you are going to have better relationships, whether you are a believer or not.

What’s the new role for professionals under PEACE 2.0?

The role of professionals is to train amateurs. When a dentist says, “I’d like to go to Latin America and pull teeth,” that’s great. That’s addition. I’d like him to go to Latin America and train people how to pull teeth. It’s not just addition—it becomes multiplication. In the Great Commission, Jesus says, “And teach them to do all things I’ve commanded you.” He doesn’t say, “Do it for them.” He says, “Teach them to do.” PEACE is all about teaching them to do.

There are three key words in 2.0: ScalableSustainableReproducible. We never sacrifice sustainability or reproducibility or scalability for speed. The faster way to do it is always to do it yourself.

Is the career missionary obsolete?

We need far more missionaries than we have right now. What we need is in addition to that. We need an amateur movement out of love. We have to remember that in the first 300 years of the church, it was pretty much all amateurs. Paul and Barnabas were sent out by a church. It was local churches sending out their people to go around the world. My prayer is that we will work hand in hand. The expertise of missionaries can be used and multiplied.

There are more than 1 billion Roman Catholics and Orthodox believers. Where do they fit in?

We need to mobilize a billion Catholics and Orthodox [believers]. I’m not really that interested in interfaith dialogue. I am interested in interfaith projects. Let’s do something together. You are probably not going to change your doctrinal distinctives, and I’m probably not going to change my doctrinal distinctives. We have different beliefs. But the fact is, we do serve the same Lord. Let’s work on the things we can agree on.”

Monday Morning Brief – 11.24.08

Highlights of the Week: 1.  Crawling baby boy is all over the place and we can’t get him to sit still.  2.  LEAD retreat with Andy Crouch and with Cohort 10.  Also enjoyed being with other cohorts.  3.  The Templeton foundation event was cool too.

Disappointment of the Weekend: Driving home from the retreat on the spare tire sucked.  Took me twice as long (4 hours) and no one carries it. Need to special order it – argh.  I did get to listen to some good music and some podcasts though.  2.  Some ministry disappointments that I am seeking wisdom on.  We need to practice courage. 

Watched: HBO’s The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo and wow, not sure I can process it. From the website:  

“Today, in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, rape is taking place on a scale that is almost unimaginable. In the last ten years, hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped – but their suffering goes unacknowledged. Instead, they are invisible, shamed and mute. This is the story of one filmmaker’s crusade to break the silence surrounding this shocking reality, armed with a firsthand connection with the women and men she meets.”

Listening to:  “Acid Tongue” – Jenny Lewis, “A Thousand Sons” – Snow Patrol, and  also enjoying Songs from Jacob’s Well – Even the Darkenss Will Not Be Dark to You – Mike Crawford and his Secret Siblings.  Like Jake Bouma, I picked up this cd at the Rec. Paul Conference and he has been blogging about it.  All I want to add is that it’s worth the hype.

Youth Ministry has been:  really good this week.  We had a crappy gathering about a month ago.  It was like everyone’s puppy got ran over that day.  There was a fair amount of complaining and general bad moods.  We talked about it and I’m happy to say that November has been a great rebound.  Youth Leaders have been more intentional, students have stepped up, and I hope I’ve been faithful to my responsibilities.  We did a series on disappointment (and expectation) called  “Letdown”.  Primary text was John 6; it was three weeks long with the last one was entitled “Is Jesus Enough”?  Last night was a solid student leader’s mtg. – proud of them. Maybe the best part of my week were the personal conversations I’ve been having with a couple of our students.

Not looking forward to:  Aside from the neglected homework and the monster to-do list, not really anxious.

Looking forward to:  Thanksgiving with the family, 2. We are dedicated Nathan next week and I like the Christmas/Advent Season. 

Reflecting on Andy Crouch, Sabbath, and cell phones

Evan and I were enjoying a discussion on the practice of Sabbath that was brought up by our time with Andy Crouch.   Like many (especially in the West and especially in the Northeast and especially with those who serve in a community in the shadows of NYC but I’m justifying and you get the point) the parts of the practice of Sabbath give me trouble.

I saw that Evan posted something on this but haven’t read it because I don’t want it to influence this post.  I think it will be interesting to see what we both come up with.  So here’s what I am thinking as I am drinking a cup of coffee from Peru in Steel City Coffee House in Phoeniville, PA. 

One of the few things in my life that I am generally pleased with is that I actually do take time to pray, meditate, read Scripture and whatever.  I try to have a time of Sabbath each day (or late at night as it is in my case).  I normally do this after I have littered, kicked my dog and gossiped about it.  Whatever goodness I claim in my time with the Lord, the idea of taking a day of Sabbath has been a different matter.   

I think it was in Velvet Elvis that Rob talks about his practice of Sabbath.  Almost a year ago, Tim Lucas from Liquid Church said in a service that he has a day where he turns off the cell, doesn’t look at email, and is with his family, etc.  I’ve heard similar stories say, “I tell the office don’t call me, I’m not answering, (there’s always some kind of concession for emergency), I’m spending the day detached from the world and in communion with God and family …

My practice of taking an actual day (like in the fundamentalist’s literal 24 hour period – lol) has always been sporadic, inconsistent, and at times non-existent. 

I’ve always envied those that have had found the discipline and community that have allowed for that Sabbath to happen.  Often I wonder if I can have it or if it’s that I won’t let myself have it. 

Can one practice Sabbath without turning off the cell phone?  Frankly speaking, I think that’s the overused example.  In fact, I’d like to make the argument that I am not controlled by my cell phone.  I hardly answer my phone when it rings.  In fact, I spend minutes being teased by my friends how they can never get me and so on.  Probably the most used feature is my voicemail.  Some of my friends read this blog and I know some will forever begrudge me but I think they know this anyway.  Because of the constant unproductively in my life, even my closest friends whom I love spending hours discussing my favorite subjects are sent to voicemail.  In fairness, I think most would say I call them back.  Sabbath from my phone is not what I need. 

Nor is it from this blog.  I present my case by the infrequent postings and the limited comments.  Regarding twitter, I have to remind myself that I have twitter.  These things do not control me. 

Perhaps the things that control me are the pressures and stress that I either inflict on myself or allow others to inflict on me.  There is also a healthy pressure that I labor for and I call it ambition.  A lot can be said about that but we all know that ambition has the potential to be a worthy pursuit.  That said, I confess the need for Sabbath.

But I think where I end up landing is here – What I think I need is not Sabbath for the sake of retreating from something but Sabbath to pursue someone/thing greater than I normally do.  I hope to reflect on this again.  

Andy Crouch – Discipline, Breathing, Sabbath and Scales – Session 2 Post 3

Session two began on the idea of Practices and Disciplines Andy defined “discipline” as a simple thing, maybe even uninteresting, done over and over so that you will eventually be free to do other things. He compared it to playing scales on the piano. Then he actually played scales on the piano. Normally that sort of thing that would bug me but I guess when you’re intelligent, talented and a have a great sense of humor, you can pull it off. He talked about “Breathing” – if you want to live musically, you need to learn how to breathe. Which led to a discussion on Sabbath. If we want to live more musically as Christians, then we have to learn to stop what we are doing and do the spiritual equivalent and breathe.  

For more, check out Evan’s notes.

Andy Crouch – violins, cds and satisfaction – Session 1, Post 2

Though I have been away from my family more than usual, it was good to be with my seminary friends on this retreat.  I’ve been looking forward to this retreat since they announced the speaker would be Andy Crouch.  So, after introductions, icebreakers, and a Sprit-filled time of worship, it was Andy’s time to speak.  He began from behind a keyboard talking about how he saw this sign at a Starbucks that said, “Live More Musically”.

Evan’s post has good notes, so check that out.  A lot of the time was focused on creating this chart between the benefits of playing the violin or playing a cd.  The point made was what gave the greater satisfaction in the long run.  Though there were advantages to the cd (like wide-distribution, great quality, portability), its satisfaction/enjoyment expires and descends.  While learning to play the violin becomes almost infinitely greater over time. 

Andy described that in order to continue to enjoy the playing of a cd, you need to constantly buy cds and it is similar to how we describe addictions.  We have set up our churches similar to this as well.  One of the issues that I have complained about over and over is the consumer mentality of churches.  Because we’re teaching people how to play cds, not teaching them how to play the violin.  So much more to say, but you get the idea.

Our Seminary Retreat with Andy Crouch

This weekend, our Biblical Seminary retreat will have a fantastic guest speaker, Andy Crouch. Because I know people who know stuff, I’ve been familiar with Andy’s work for a little while.  He also writes for a small independent spiritual journal called Christianity Today.  (It’s ok, if you haven’t heard of it).

Andy is the author of the highly acclaimed book Culture Making.  If you are familiar with Andy’s work (like at the Q Conference, his articles, or seen his small group curriculum Where Faith & Culture Meet), you know some of the premise of the book.  If you’re new to Andy and engaged in the culture conversation (and bothered by some of Christian music/movies/art/general outlook of culture) you’ve probably even said very similar things while drinking non-corporate, free-trade coffee with your intelligent friend who loves literature and gardening.  However, the book is the other 200 pages of well-written thought that your refill probably didn’t cover.  

Anyway, I find myself in a good place in life right now.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’ve been so proud of places like my denomination for bringing Dave Kinnaman (from UnChristian) and organizations like Youth Specialites for bringing in speakers like Phyllis Tickle, Tony Jones, Tom Sine, and Scot McKnight for the National Youth Workers Convention.  I’ve really had amazing opportunitues to hear some incredible speakers/thinkers.  So if I have to be away from my beautiful wife and son, then I am thrilled that Biblical Seminary has invited Andy am looking forward to hanging out with my cohort friends.

Karl Giberson's Interview with Skeptic's Michael Shermer

This past Monday night my friend Tim and I went to another event put on by the Templeton Foundation. This was part of the Book Forum Series and it featured Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. The night was centered on Giberson being interviewed by Skeptic magazine editor, Michael Shermer.  It took place at the Harvard Club in Manhatten and it had good food and wine, friendly people – well worth the effort of driving into the city. 

Part of Karl’s story is that he approached this subject coming from a fundamentalist background and while in college starting appreciating some of the elements of science and fell in love with a lot of Darwin and other evolutionary ideas.  Though you may have heard that part of the story before (it could even be yours), he adds in his book that growing up, his hero was the early earther, creation apologist Henry Morris.  I found that to be interesting.

Shermer and Giberson had a very polite and enjoyable conversation.  I’m not sure if it actually ever got too awkward and I credit Shermer for creating a positive mood.  In fact, I thought there were several moments were he could have debated but his role was to interview and I appreciated the level of restraint he demonstrated. 

So can you be a Christian and believe in evolution (the macro)? Giberson insists that you can.  He also said that the creationist tends to turn the Genesis account into a proto-science (and it’s not meant to be scientific).  When we compare against the theory of evolution we rob ourselves from the goodness of the other stories.  Further if we get distracted by the first couple chapters in Genesis, we miss too much.

As he was talking about the origins of fundamentalism he mentioned that creationism wasn’t considered a fundamental back in the early part of the 20th century. Found that also to be intriguing.

In short, Shermer kept on a line of questions that more or less asked, then why continue be a Christian.  He even questioned his motivation by saying, “You’re not pretending to believe this to make life easier for  yourself …. are you?”

Giberson did not give any overly dramatic answers.  I would tell you that he felt very comfortable and confident in his reconciling of faith and science.  He mentioned a couple times in various contexts that he maintains in the existence of God, that Christianity offers a richer worldview, that he believed in the resurrection and so on.  I also appreciated that he said that we believe “loads and loads” of things that step outside science.  He didn’t get into the details as the conversation kept moving but as much as I appreciate science as well, I thought that was a friendly reminder.

One last thing that got me thinking was his discussion on the education that Christian congregations give to their children.  As a youth pastor, this is something that I have thought about over and over not only in the teenage years but in those formative children’s years.  I plan on doing some reflection on this point in particular. 

In not wanting to make this too long of a post, I remember reading a book (by a Christian author) of some of the beautiful things that Darwin said and his inner conflicts and struggles.  In brief, too many Christians portray him as a Herod and that it is a mistake.

After some questions and answers, there was a gentlemen (I believe from the museum of science) who closed the night with some great Darwin quotes.  So good, they could probably be quoted from the pulpits if we left the name off or credited to C.S. Lewis.

I encourage you to read the book.  I skimmed most of it and plan on giving it more attention.  It’s not really an apologetic on evolution or Christianity but I think it’s serves as a great first step to those of us interested in this conversation.

Francis Chan at #NYWC in Pittsburgh

 Youth Specialties Pittsburgh – General Session 3 – Francis Chan – Post 5

Francis Chan was the speaker for General Session 3.  He’s a great speaker, great energy, all that you would expect from a gen. session speaker.  Honesty, I wasn’t sure about him since I heard a particular podcast that kinda … hmm … not sure what the word is here but I wasn’t feeling him.  Glad we don’t finalize our impressions from one interview or something though.

Anyway, I connected with this message.  Loved that he spoke about the complexities of parables.  Reminding us that Jesus actually wanted people to work and struggle through their meanings.  They were for those who wanted to know and wanted to be his disciples. 

I am lost as a listener every time someone says something to the effect of “It’s easy, we just need to GO!!” or “the Gospel isn’t rocket science”.  It’s actually harder then rocket science.  Anyway, Francis didn’t do that.

One of his main points was, “We as youth pastors do so many things different than Jesus.”  I’ve always tried do to the alternative youth ministry thing but even there, I find myself doing things that Jesus might consider unnecessary.   

He also said: In reaching our students we overestimate the importance of attendance.  To the point that when kids leave, we beg for them to come back, offer pizza, prizes.  Jesus let the crowds leave for the effect of his message.

On Salt:  “Jesus talking about salt and its use.  He says that some of you are “flavorless salt” that has not use.  It’s not enough good enough to be used as manure.”

Jesus was saying, “You are ruining crap”. 

He used a fun illustration of adding  a big pile of flavorless salt to small packet’s size worth of salt.  Who adds flavorless salt to real salt?  Why would you do that?  Ohhh, because we like to have bigger piles, bigger crowds, bigger attendance etc. 

We can build our congregations, we can get people to come front. He joked how he has a story that gets people to come down every time.  True, true. 

But what we need is something super-natural.  We need life change. 

He spoke about Elijah as a man just like him.  Fire can come down from heaven but it’s the work of God not of ours. 

“It will be hard but we must teach and lead like Jesus.”  

Monday Morning Brief – November 17

Highlight of the Week:  Nathan crawling and thus the three of us shopping for more baby friendly furniture at IKEA; seeing Andy Zipf perform at Ninety Six West, great music, great guy, listen here; had a great time hanging out with the Turrners, Currys, Youseffs, and some of my church friends; grateful for our Sr. Pastor Installation Service yesterday; enjoying touring Yankee Stadium, sat in the dugout, stood in locker-room, pressbox, that was cool.  Yeah, it’s been a good week. 

Listening to:  Bob Dylan Tell Tale Signs:  The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, Fermi Project Podcasts this week. 

Reading:  The Psalms, Old Testament Parallels, by Victor H. Matthews and Don Benjamin, and Exploring the Old Testament A Guide to the Psalms and Wisdom Literature by Ernest Lucas.  perused Saving Darwin:  How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution by Karl Giberson (Should see him in a discussion tonight with Michael Shermer from Skeptic magazine).  Just started reading Culture Making by Andy Crouch.

Watched: The new Nooma video, Tomato.  Like all of them, produced well, shot well, Rob’s great, but this one didn’t pop for me (like say Breathe, or Rhythm, or Luggage or Rain or …).  There’s devil guy chasing people around – he’s the best part.  Thought it was clever and it worked for the video.  Rob is right on in dealing with identity, life, unconditional love – all good but I already feel this is what we’ve been saying for quite a while now (that’s not bad and I know there’s nothing new under the sun but this is just a brief review of  a movie short called Tomato).  So I didn’t love it but will show it.  Maybe it will connect with me more after I watch a few times or maybe someone I show it to will connect with it. 

Looking forward to: our seminary retreat with Andy Crouch, reading what Tony Jones will be saying regarding the complicated topic of homosexuality.  I admire his courage as I am working my way through this issue and others. 

Procrastinating on:  aside from pretty much everything, planning on our mission trip.  So far, we are going to DC/LA then off to a mission trip to Latin America.   Options include, Belize, Bahamas, and Mexico.