Why I Blog

I just started sharing this on Facebook and it seemed like a good time to revisit the purpose of blogging. Generally I began blogging as a form of catharsis. In conversation with family and friends, a particular discussion would arise and I would mention that I “blogged” on that.

Usually these thoughts come out of everyday life. They usually happen over coffee or dinner or at youth leader meetings but i’m finding more and more the same ones are happening after church in the parking lot with those I have come to relate to. More of these conversations have been happening with students, their parents, even strangers that are met in unexpected places (I tend to talk to just about anyone).

Then I began sharing this site with like-minded people and people I trusted. I avoided sharing these thoughts any further out in fear of being attacked for writing online allows a great deal of vulnerability. But I was challenged recently to be more courageous. I felt encouraged from what I feel were unlikely sources. And so when when the Network Blog app came out on facebook, I signed up.

Know that these views do not represent my church but know that I am very aware and grateful for my pastoral ministry. They only represent me and if you understand blogging culture, they generally only represent you at the time of its posting. Still, I’ll do my best to be responsible for these words as part of my integrity but remember, this blog is not my pulpit. It’s an online journal of thoughts that I am honored that you would take the time to read these thoughts and comment should you choose. Chances are, you have these thoughts too and with our new technologies and our ever-changing culture of communication, i invite your input. I ask that you be mindful of the medium. I have a commenting policy in my “About” page. If you regard yourself a Christian, be consistent with that here. If you do not consider yourself to be one, treat others as you would wish to be treated.

So happy reading, I invite your feedback, encouragements, pushbacks and your perspective on things.
Consider receiving these posts via email, (you can sign up on the right), RSS Feeder (if you know what that is) follow on the Network Blog app (also on the right). I tend to blog more when people are reading.
There is much to learn from each other and who knows, you may find a reason to start blogging too.

Christmas Reflections Part 3 – Have Yourself a Snobby Little Christmas

Warning  – if you don’t get sarcasm – Stop reading ;-)

I was done talking about this but from various conversations and looking at facebook status updates, I guess I’m not ready to drop this.  What is it about Christian holidays that gets everyone so angry? Is it all the talk of peace? Is it the joy to the world blessings? Is it the adorable personalities like Santa, Rudolph, and Buddy the Elf?

I know that people have a lot emotionally invested in the Christmas holiday. I realize that for most people, it’s an important part of their childhood. And for many there is a longing to return to the way things were – whatever that means. Further, as a Christian, I certainly understand its significance. But because I do, I find myself restraining my frustration from those that get angry this time of year. It seems obvious that our responses should be joyful and grateful.

The other day while standing in line at Barnes and Noble, I heard a couple of people venting about how terrible all the tacky lights on people’s trees inside and outside.   One noticed the book I was holding was spiritual and a conversation began. Wouldn’t you know it – they were fellow Christians. “What has happened to this holiday?” the one asked me.  I tried consoling them by saying, “Well, what do you expect when you borrow from pagan traditions?” but that only seemed to upset them further. Really, what do you say? “Yeah, you know what Leviticus says about that mixing colors on trees.” or “That’s why I stopped celebrating the coming of Jesus.”. To fit in, I guess I should have said, “That’s why this country is going straight to hell. Why when I was growing up, everyone celebrated Christmas and only used red and green lights, like Mary and Joseph did.  And then we’d all go and build a church, and then an orphanage, and then a Christian ice cream parlor.  After we were done, we’d drink some hot chocolate (at the ice cream parlor) then go caroling in the nursing homes in Antarctica. Those were the days.”

I couldn’t help but think they were snobby. To retaliate, I didn’t invite them to our Christmas Eve services (Yeah, what’s up? Who’s snobbier now? ;-)

Someone else had made passing comment to me regarding the title of a message that I was going to preach, “Incarnation and Imagination: What Elf, Charlie Brown Christmas, and the Gospel of Luke can Teach Us About Christmas”.  (See all I gained from Pete Enns.  I know this reference only works for a few people). Anyway, it was for our Second Mile service which is a monthly Saturday night service geared for those in their 20’s and 30’s. Unfortunately we had to cancel the service because of the snow but it was probably going to me my best message ever. Now we’ll never know. Anyway, I am sure this person was just making conversation with me and it was not an attempt to critique the title but the comment implied that it wasn’t suitable for a holiday so sacred. I was like, “What’s wrong with the Gospel of Luke?”.

Again, I thought that was a bit snobby. To be spiteful, I think next year I will add National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to the title. (That’s how we roll in Montvale. Shove that in your stocking. ;-)

Although I give a lot of evidence to the contrary, I can be a pretty serious and reflective person. I love Christmas. I love its meaning. I love its beauty and I love much of what surrounds it, including the cheesy decorations, odd characters, and some really hard to sing carols. What I despise is when we take the peripherals of it too seriously.  I suppose I am sensitive to that because that used to accurately describe me.

There was a time where anything that did not scream “holy, Holy, HOLY!” seemed like an attempt to cheapen Christmas to me.  I really felt I was honoring God more by “guarding” the sanctity of the holiday if I condemned the non-sacred elements of it.  All I could talk about was the commercialization of the holiday and how it had lost its high place in the American landscape.  And while I was always annoyed of when someone would call Santa, Satan, it bothered me that kids wrote letters to the fat man as opposed to offering prayers to the Almighty One.

I am not sure what exactly the turning point for me was but it had a lot to do with observing the time of Advent.  I know this now – taking the time to prepare my heart for Christmas allowed me to take in more of the joy of the holiday.  It allowed me to look at the rich and beautiful meaning of Jesus’ coming and it offered me a healthier way of celebrating it.  It even opened my eyes to enjoying our feeble attempts of demonstrating our happiness.  I found myself not taking everything about it so seriously, yet still loving God more for the purpose of His coming.  It’s probably not a coincidence that I stared loving the movie Elf.  To me, Elf is not just a hilarious character played by Will Ferrell but also the child-like response of the innocent in love with the amazing.  (And yes, Ferrell is hilarious).

We shouldn’t take every treat every aspect of our spirituality so seriously. Indeed, humor can degrade important matters but it’s also used in celebration. For example, a birthday party. Because we cannot always hire carolers to sing on our front lawns all day (although that would help unemployment), we hang up lights. Because the human heart cannot literally talk about Jesus all day, we create characters like Santa (based off a Saint that provided for orphans), Rudolph (based off a children’s story of acceptance) and Buddy (who I think is based off a monk in the 4th century who was raised by … ok, I’m making that one up) but to help remind us to keep the “holiday spirit”. Because the lighting and relighting of the advent wreath at some point loses its beauty (and becomes a potential fire hazard), we watch the Christmas Story and Miracle on 34th Street. And yes, a twenty foot blow-up Homer Simpson is now part of Christmas and according to some neighborhoods, he was a part of the Magi.

No one will have any trouble convincing me that some have removed Jesus totally from Christmas, but a few things are worth mentioning here. One is that Jesus would not respond with anger and frustration but instead with grace and love. Two, we Christians remove Jesus from His own holiday when we fight over Christmas rather then just celebrate and graciously share it.  And lastly, Christmas can never be taken away. Its redemptive meaning are for all those who dare to come from wherever they are and celebrate.

Christmas (Eve) Reflections – Part 2 – Fighting with a llama and worshipping baby Jesus

The night was Christmas Eve a few years ago and I was standing outside fighting with the llama. As I recall, the dispute was over the agreement we made with his owner. We needed him to lead the purple king of the Magi entourage down the center aisle for our Christmas Eve service but he was one of those animal actors who didn’t want to work because we had overlooked certain details of his rider (he required Avian drinking water and we used Dasani). Being Egyptian, it’s in my blood to win such battles with the camels and llamas (the camel’s western hemisphere cousin) but my parents immigrated so their sons would never have to deal with these humped stubborn beasts!

As a child this was of course how I always dreamed I would spend my birthday. As a pastor, this was of course, how I always dreamed of being part of the Christmas Eve service. Eventually, I threatened to call his agent the diva came to reason and fulfilled his duty. This was just one episode of an entire Christmas drama production my church would put on to celebrate the birth of Jesus. For the record, those productions were done pretty well. In fact, for the size of our church, it was pretty amazing. We had a few retired men who would build these elaborate sets to convert the sanctuary into a starry Bethlehem. Almost the whole church got involved which sounds nice but when church people are involved, they usually bring their problems. Each year, there was something, who would play Mary, it’s a singing role you know, who would play Jesus, we need more choir members, more instrumentalists, “so and so” was going to be out of town and the classic, “this looks like last year”.

We would do two of them that night, and this was my fifth Christmas production at that point. I remembered my thoughts at the second service from previous years. By then it was after midnight, Christmas morning, and I would be standing in the back of the sanctuary. The drama portion had been finished, everything was quiet and we had moved into the candle lighting time before singing, “Joy to the World”. That moment used to always redeem the chaos for me but this particular year took a toll on me and I found myself wondering, “Would Jesus have celebrated His birthday (His coming) like this?” and further, “Would He want me to celebrate it this way too?”

As I recall us taking the Christmas offering in giant Christmas stockings (I kid you not), I feel confident saying that Jesus may have skipped His own party. He may have even preferred the pub across the street. I hope that doesn’t come across as offensive. While I do not deny that I am prone to exaggeration and at times feel the need to provoke and instigate, I actually thought and find little reason not to believe this. This goes beyond the fact that Jesus ate and drank with prostitutes and tax collectors (the worst of betrayers of His community), but rather I am more interested in what celebrating the coming of Jesus looks like.

I think Jesus would have us be with those we love and find ways to interact and bless those we don’t know. Celebrating Jesus’ coming is to imitate His ministry. To love, to serve, to live in humility, to pray without pretense, to intentionally sacrifice in hopes of bringing joy to the world and glory to the Father.

Tonight I won’t be fighting with a llama but I look forward in attending our Christmas Eve service tonight (it’s a different type of service at my current church). Tonight, tomorrow, and most days, I am (and hope to be) grateful for things like the season of Advent, projects like the Advent Conspiracy and with the leading of the Holy Spirit, trying to live a life that reflects Jesus’ coming. I wish the same for anyone reading this – May you be filled with the joy, hope and peace of Jesus’ coming. Merry Christmas friend.

Reflecting on Christmas Post 1

The year was 1986 when I opened up my favorite childhood toy – it was the Transformer Optimus Prime. I opened up the next box and it was Megatron. Then my relatives showed up and I got Bumblebee, Starscream, Shockwave (the Decepticon cassette player) and Mirage (he was the race car who could become invisible). Those were the days.  But before you think I was an extremely spoiled kid, here’s a good time to insert that my birthday is Christmas Eve (it’s pretty much the cleft palate of birthdays but to date, there is no corrective surgery). Double presents was the only redeeming thing about this day. Anyway, my mom had called my aunts and they coordinated the presents. it was the most organized middle-eastern execution of any idea to date. I’m not kidding.

Christmas seemed to suck each year after that. Because my parents are terrible liars, I knew the truth about Santa from an early age. So when you stop enjoying toys and you can’t eat candy canes because your dad is a dentist, Christmas becomes a real long Church Cantata service that you are required to go to on your birthday. Being a smart kid growing up in the Back to the Future era, I started requesting a DeLorean time machine to take me back to 1986.

Throughout my teen years, Christmas became among the many times that I really tried to connect with my faith. Combined with being blessed with a great family, it really was my favorite time of year although it had changed so much. Then in college, I enjoyed it even more. Being a religion major, I was gaining a better understanding of its theological significance but it was more because of the family event we created.

The flip side was that I became kinda snobby about all the superficial extras that surrounded Christmas. The tacky lights, drunk Santas, the commercialization, I wanted to kick an elf. I even stopped listening to Christmas music. I knew everyone had Christmas all wrong, I just didn’t know how wrong I had it too.

I enter Christmas time differently these days. For starters, I now call it Advent. And while I can list quite a number of things that I love about the meaning of our Savior’s coming, these days I am most moved by Jesus’ humanity. Not just that he would humble himself and become a defenseless baby, but that he would become human to begin with. Don’t think for a moment that the Sovereign Creator becoming an infant is lost on me, I have two children under the age of two sleeping upstairs and the youngest is about to turn 8 weeks. Some of us could never imagine leaving our part of the country and living in a state say, like West Virginia. Some of us could never live abroad. Imagine leaving heaven to live on this rock of dirt over a population that would painfully reject you and only a few would truly love you and you knew this the whole time.

Here is where the humanity really moves me and I know that I will not be able to adequately describe this. but here’s my best shot.  I cannot imagine the anxiety that Jesus walked around with. Each day moving closer to his death, each day experiencing the trials and ordeals of human life. It’s no wonder that he routinely prays and weeps over Jerusalem and cries over Lazarus. He understands all sides of the pain. This brings me to my favorite part of the celebration. Every so often, you get the pleasure of being the person who brings good news. You get to be the one to encourage people, touch people, maybe even be a part of what brings joy to others. I like to imagine the feeling he had of knowing that he was the embodiment of hope, the hope for you and me, the hope for all of creation. This is among the many gifts of Christmas – that he would come and dwell among us – that He would want to be our Emmanuel.

Monday Morning Brief 12.22.09 – Tuesday Afternoon Edition

What I’m Loving at the Moment …
–  Little Dylan has been doing great since he was released his hospitalization for the RSV virus.
–  Big brother Nathan is handling all of his sibling duties with excellence.  He puts his toys away when asked and is not biting Dylan.  What more could we ask from a 19 month old?
–  My niece Lina, sister Kim, and bro-in-law Tony are in from Phoenix.  My in-laws are up from FL and this is shaping up to be a very special Christmas. Later this week we are getting together with my cousin’s daughter Sophie. It will be the first time that these 4 are in the same room.
–  Relieved that another semester of seminary is completed.  Grateful that I get to study and work full-time.
–  That my Christmas shopping has consisted of Fair Trade coffee, magazine subscriptions to Relevant and Generate, a couple of books, Invisible Children merch and restaurant  gift certificates.  We are headed to Toys R’ Us to get something for the boys.  I know, where are the Fair Trade toys?

What I’m Praying for at the Moment ..
There’s a lot of illnesses and physical issues going around.
Our senior pastor’s dad is critically ill.
A father of one of cohort students is critically ill as well.
I have two uncles in and out of the hospital depending on the week.
And have a few sets of friends who have been on our hearts.

Disappointed …
– that we had to cancel our Second Mile service (monthly gathering on Saturday night targeted towards 20’s and 30’s). I had clips of Elf and Charlie Brown Christmas. Well, I’m ready for next year.
– that Christians still get so angry at Christmastime. Friends, secular culture can not take the meaning of Christmas away by not decorating or greeting you in a way that you want them to.  Jesus came for the redemption of all, that’s all you need to celebrate.
– that Ben Folds was on that Fox Sing Off.  I kid you not, if I see the Will Butler from the Arcade Fire or Ben Gibbard from Deathcab on American Idol, I’m hacking Pitchfork and Paste and saying some real mean things.  Like, “I’d rather listen to Christian music then these idie artists”.

What I’ve Been Reading …
Colossians Remixed by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat.  Excellent, 3 thumbs up. Required reading.  Especially chapters 6 and 7 on the nature of truth.

Paul, an Outline of His Theology by Herman Ridderbos.  Uhh, 562 pages is not an outline. Still, the book was better than I’d thought it would be.  Was pretty turned off after having to read The Coming Kingdom.

What’s on Deck …

Manifold Witness by John Franke
and The Young Evangelicals by Robert Webber.  Suggested by a someone I appreciate.

The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing & Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community by Tony Jones

What I’m Listening to …

Christmas music and nothing but.

Bob Dylan Christmas
Sufjan Christmas
Relient K Christmas (I really like that one song, “I Celebrate the Day”
and all the free stuff on Noisetrade
Podcasts like Relevant, Homebrewed and Mars Hill Church sermons and the Mars Hill Audio Journal by Ken Myers

What’s Been Going On in our Student Ministry …
– We’re getting into some real solid conversational moments.  They can be frustrating but I’m also finding them to be revealing.  The long and short of it is that many of our students care about their faith, maybe more than I give them credit for (It’s hard for youth pastors to get their hopes up you know ;-). But they are having trouble in demonstrating their faith outside the walls of our bubble.  Initially I was discouraged since we spent 4 months last year discussing the “Bubble” from Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus But Not the Church. I now see it as a continuation of that conversation.

– Getting ready for our winter retreat.  Showing Bill Maher’s Religulous.  It’s not a “gloves are coming off” attack back at Maher or the views he represents.  It’s a “how do we as Christians respond?” type of thing.

What I Plan on Blogging About Soon …
– Christmas Reflections
– Our seminary retreat with Brian McLaren
– A couple book reviews
– Some youth ministry posts

Looking Forward to:
– Celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary!
– Getting more info on our seminary trip to Vietnam!
– 2010!

Reflecting on Advent and Waiting in a Pediatrics Intensive Care Unit

Last week, our 6 week old spent the week in pediatrics ICU recovering from RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus).  It’s a common virus that most people’s immune system easily fights but is dangerous to the elderly and infants under 6 months.

Thankfully we were able to bring Dylan in before the infection turned into something more severe like pneumonia and become potentially life-threatening.  Though he stopped nursing and was becoming dehydrated, he received iv treatment and regained healthy fluid levels.  Taking turns, my wife would stay the day while I would be with our 19month old at home, then I’d return and spend the night there.  Before this our parenting badges were puked stained sweaters.  Now, we were earning our hospital bedside vigil pins too.

In previous years, I would spend the time of Advent preparing my heart for the celebration of the coming of the Christ-child.  I like the season of Advent and I wish my fellow Christians would not spend so much time and energy miserable about who says season’s greetings and who says Merry Christmas.  And I would probably fight harder about that but frankly I don’t want to spend my Advent season fighting about not fighting over the Christmas space in our public arenas.  This year, I was even less inclined for we were waiting for our child to be discharged from the hospital.

Waiting is never easy for our human nature.  It carries too much fear and anxiety.  Questions emerge like, “What if this gets worse?”

Even waiting while you are optimistic isn’t easy. Because you can be fully optimistic, completely confident, “certain of your faith” as some might say, but until it comes to be, you still have to wait.  This was my type of waiting.  It seemed pretty clear that Dylan was going to be alright, his body just needed to recover.   In my heart, there was no need to hedge my bets.  I just had to wait.  And it was here that I relearned a lesson.  Waiting itself is a gift.  It creates suspense, tension and the promise of joy.  It insists that you must seek something greater, something not bound my deadlines and time tables, something bigger than the diagnoses and probabilities. It’s not a thing at all, but you realize you’ve been given a place to seek the presence of God that you realize.  Inadvertently, a holy sanctuary is created.  If we think that fabled manger scene is an odd place to meet God, so is a pediatrics ICU.

Praying at a hospital is nothing new.  There a lot of tearful sincere prayers offered from there.  Their elevators have carried more than just physical bodies but also, fears, pain, and grief.  My heart broke for those in rooms next to me.  While there, I saw a patient that had been admitted after us being discharged.  Initially, I was envious but the looks on the parents’ faces were not ones to be jealous of.   Because of germs and fragile health, there were no parents sharing stories in the hallways. And you knew you were in a tough place when you would get a cup of tea and the only sound coming from the rooms were not televisions but rather the chirping of machines.  For me, waiting in suspended joy seems to be this year’s advent theme for me. Others were experiencing a different kind of waiting.  And it’s not easy to forget that paradox.

Sunday morning, our pediatric doctor came in and told me that Dylan could go home today.  Even my iphone auto-correction could not keep up with my joyful fingers as I texted my wife.  I changed Dylan in a record-setting 34 minutes, collected our bags, bundled him up in true “A Christmas-Story” fashion, and whispered a prayer of thanksgiving hoping that this was the last time either of my children would lay in a metal crib. We said our goodbyes to all the nurses and doctors, removed the baby lo-jack (not kidding), signed the papers, and got out of there.  I stood at the end of the hallway waiting for the security doors to be opened afraid that they would change their minds upon reading some new medical research absolutely relevant to our case.  We finished our waiting, let’s go.

I got to the elevators,  pushed the button a couple times (as everyone knows, it makes them come twice as fast), and made sure my car keys were in my coat pocket and not in my jeans, we had to get home.  Unfortunately, the elevators were extremely slow.  I waited.  Pushed the buttons.  Waited more.  A small crowd collected.  Everyone commented on how cute our son was.  Finally, the door opened right in front of me.  But as it was, it was filled with a giant trash bin and a two janitors.  We laughed awkwardly as the doors closed.  We waited longer.  Then I realized, the janitor staff would probably be finished with that floor and I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing them and their cart again so we waited no more.  We headed down a different corridor, got on a different set of elevators and got out of there like we were on the Shawshank Redemption (minus the crawling through the sewer thing).

Advent is about waiting, but as to all great stories, there’s more.  There’s a climax to the story too – a joyful one.  And it’s about being released and returning where you are supposed to be.

Leaving the hospital (twice now) with this healthy child has truly been great joy.  Even greater is the promise that the Christ child is/was filled with.  Babies are the promise of life.  Dreams, genealogies, futures are wrapped in them.  I swear it’s part of what that makes that new baby smell so unique.  As a Christian, I believe the joy of our children is heightened by the hope and promise of the work of Jesus.  For me, waiting in that hospital room knowing that a healthy, beautiful future awaits our son because of the life of Jesus allowed was a gift of Advent.  That said, I hope to avoid this hospital next December.

Is Bono our Billy Graham? Thoughts on Today's Evangelist – Part 2

I am attempting to make the case that today, the musician (or artist) is today’s evangelist.  Now I can hear one of my friends mentally thinking right now, “Well, it depends what you mean by evangelist”.  Indeed  it does.  For years I have not been convinced that the motivation of every convert at a Billy Graham crusade was forgiveness of their sin and joining God’s narrative of redemption of all of creation.  It seems clear to me that each person comes to Jesus from a different context and a different part of the gospel appeals to them more.  Those that are in need of healing (physical, emotional) look to Jesus the Healer.  Those guilt-ridden from a list of sins that have haunted them for years seek Jesus the Forgiver.  The meaning-seeker sees Jesus as the mediator between her and God.  Some even identify with Jesus the lover of people and while they acknowledge their sin, they are even more moved by the inspiration of Jesus.  And then there are some who don’t care about Jesus at all but know they prefer heaven over hell.  That’s probably a very, very, very small percentage but let’s call them “Jesus the free ticket to heaven because I sure don’t wanna go to hell” believer.

Now it is not the purpose of this post to determine which motivations for conversion  and discipleship are authentic (although our sarcastic spirits can probably figure some of  that out), I do want to equal the playing field here when we question the motives of  those like Bono or Jars of Clay or some other musician.  But when these musicians’  activism brings clean water to a group of people, is that not true mission work?  To  some, mission work only happens if there is a “true gospel” presentation and while I certainly believe that we are to share about the crucifixion, resurrection and the way of Jesus, etc., I think too many evangelicals have largely missed the importance of things like clean water initiatives in places like Africa and addressing the needs here in our own communities.

I imagine a conversation with a missionary saying to a thirsty African: “You need Jesus, the Living Water!  See, it’s spiritual”.
Thirsty African: “I have no idea what you are talking about.  How is a name I never heard of going to give me spiritual water.”
Missionary: “You’re misunderstanding – Jesus has the water”.
Thirsty African: “Oh that’s great!  Where’s Jesus, because my family and I really thirsty”.
Missionary: “Well he’s not here he’s …
Thirsty African: “Oh. I got it the first time.  Well I wish Jesus would have come with your fancy spiritual water.  Listen, some guy from Ireland is providing water and digging wells. Frankly, he looks a bit odd but I’m headed over there.”

Sometimes I feel as an evangelical missions movement saying, “It’s too much trouble to help feed and clothe you, so you will probably die before we can do this efficiently.  But die with Jesus. We love him, so should you.  He has done so much for us and if you believe in this name that you have never heard of, you will thank us on the other side of eternity.”  This is what I am interpreting some saying.

I think that’s a very poor approach to missions, the gospel and the call to the Christian life and I hate to say it (I really do) but I think some of our artists are doing more for the Kingdom than some of our “missionaries”.

Is Bono our Billy Graham? Thoughts on Today's Evangelists Part 1

Last week, a few friends and i got together and among many things, we got to talking about Billy Graham and Bono.  I made the argument that to many,  Bono is our generation’s Billy Graham.  If you are a U2 basher, just hold on (or go listen to Lady Gaga or something) but hear me out.  Admittedly there are significant character differences, certainly Bono is cooler, and certainly Billy Graham was more influential to the Protestant Church but a case could easily be made for Bono inspiring more people outside the church.  Is that not huge part of the job description of an evangelist?

It started after reading this article from this month’s Christianity Today cover story how about bands like Jars of Clay have become so involved in mission work.  The article stated that using music in mission work  was not new by mentioning “In 1883, gospel singer Ira Sankey joined evangelist Dwight L. Moody in Edinburgh to raise £10,000 (equivalent to $373,000 today) to build a permanent home for Carrubbers Close Mission—which still offers the homeless a free breakfast on Sundays.”   While this is a great story something tells me that we are not comparing apples to apples here.

I could be wrong but during their touring, I am fairly sure that the crowd was coming to hear Moody.  I mean really, which name do you recognize between the two?  The article went on to say that musician-led activism has greatly increased and  soared in 2002 with Bono’s work.  This got me thinking.  More than 100 years ago it was the musician who accompanied the evangelist, today it seems the musician is the evangelist.

Overstated right?  Can you tell me the name of a real evangelist right now?  Oh I know, we do evangelism differently these days, we have broadcast evangelists.  Which one is your favorite?  Bono is mine.  Continued tomorrow.

My Review of the Justice Project

Shame on me for underestimating its potential but to put it simply, The Justice  Project exceeded my expectations.    In my defense, I simply could not believe that  one book that asked such wide array of minds to confine their words in only a few  pages each could be so powerful.  Looking back on it, I approached it the way I see  many compilation cd’s.  You know what I’m talking about – those albums created for  a particular cause but are so disjointed that their best feature is that they gave a tiny  percentage of the proceeds to the cause itself.

The Justice Project is nothing like that.  I figured I would like it, but I didn’t realize  how moved I would be by so many chapters.  I know this sounds overly dramatic, but  I am not sure I could figure out which chapter I liked the least.

Similar to the Coldplay effect on music where so many bands decided to incorporate more piano and less guitar, to some, justice is the new novelty of the Christian world.  What the JP does is open the eyes of the reader that justice has always been the mandate of God and part of the scope of the Scriptures but unfortunately, some of us have missed it.

Justice has gotten a bad reputation amongst evangelicals.  Scarred by the missteps of the social justice movement (where the pendulum swung too far), the mission of God became exclusively about winning souls to heaven (the pendulum swung back too far).  In some circles, the term “justice” has gotten a bad rap as it was often modified by the word “social”. And we all know that if you are interested in social justice that you can’t be interested in the resurrection of Jesus too.  Clearly one is completely alien to the other.   This book would help alter that perspective.

If I could read it over again, I would have used this book as a devotional.  I don’t normally use daily “devotionals” and not real crazy about the connotations associated with the term but using this as a daily reading would be beneficial.  There’s a lot to consider.  Like the Hebrew and Greek word for “justice” occur over 1000 times in the Bible.  However, how many sermons have you heard on the subject of justice? I bet you have heard more sermons about sex than you have about justice. Further, I bet that you have rolled your eyes more times at Bono talking about justice than the number of times your pastor has centered a sermon around this subject.

One of the best features of the book is that it includes voices from various ethnicities and from different corners of life.  While there were some very familiar names like Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Lynne Hybels, Samir Selmanovic, Peggy Campolo, the Samsons, about half the names were new to me and I found myself googling them after finishing their chapters.  I especially liked the author bio on the first page of the essay as opposed to the last page.  As you may have heard by now, everything is contextual and it was great to get a hint of where the writer was coming from.  I also liked the way the five parts the book was broken into: The God of Justice, The Book of Justice, Justice in the USA, A Just World, and A Just Church.

As most of the faithful readers of this blog know by now, I direct a lot of words to the conservative evangelicals because I consider myself to be one.  To put it bluntly, if  you can define justice as part of God’s righteousness, and if we as a Church can see and treat it the way we regard evangelism and discipleship in the Kingdom, then  I believe, we would be a more complete Church.  Pick up the Justice Project, it’s excellent.