The Last Word Post 2 – The Bible is not just for Daily Devotions

A memory I hope my mind will never forget was a reoccurring scene growing up in my home where I would walk into the kitchen and see my mom read her Bible with a cup of tea next to her. I would go downstairs to watch television and on my way would peak in my dad’s home office study and see him reading his Bible. I grew up in a home where we did family devotions and where Scripture and prayer were emphasized. I didn’t like it, I mean really, who wants to hang out with their parents and if they must, do we have to read the Bible of all things? Still, I remember my parents’ devotion to have some type of impact on me.

So when I write this post with this title, it is not against the idea of daily devotions. If you reading this for the first time, my goal is to get you to read some of NT Wright’s books and this particular set of posts is on his book The Last Word and it’s about Scripture.  One thing Wright continues to do is take a fairly good thing and point out that it’s not enough. So it’s with enthusiasm that I say Amen and Amen when he writes that the Bible is more than just a “devotional manual” (p.32). As a pastor who hears constantly how hard it is to find time to read the Bible (and I know this personally as well), I know the last thing I want to do is allow any further possibility of guilt and risk the possibility of the Bible becoming even more intimidating for people. So critiquing the Bible as not just a mere “devotional manual” is a risky thing.

That said, the flip side is for those who do read their Bibles consistently but only treat it as a devotional manual miss out on so much beauty and power contained in the Scriptures. The problem that I found is when I use the Bible merely for personal devotions, I “hunt” only for what applies specifically to me and what I would consider to be useful that day. Now that is not necessarily a bad thing but I liken it to signing up for an expensive gym membership and only using it for the treadmill – there’s a lot more in there to take advantage of.

And this is where I find Wright as a scholar and as a pastor to be so helpful because he is among those that writes with the normal church worshippers in mind. Wright offers these strategies to gain more than just a devotional reading from Scripture.

First he says that we must employ a “totally contextual” reading of it (p. 128).
He writes:
All Scripture is “cultural conditioned.” It is naïve to pretend that some parts are not, and can therefore be treated as in some sense “primary” or “univeral”, while other parts are, and can therefore safely be set aside. The doctrine of Jesus’ divinity is culturally conditioned … the doctrine of justification by faith is culturally conditioned: only within a world already accustomed to notions fo God’s justice, of the Jewish law, and of the promise to Abraham could such a thing be conceived. We must read the Bible with as full and clear an understanding of these contexts as we can. To do so is an enormous, though exhilarating task.

He goes on to say that to understand the Bible’s context, we must also understand and appreciate our own. We read into the text our own biases and presuppositions and while we can “check” them, we cannot entirely divorce ourselves from our personal contextual lenses … and so simply, we should be aware of that because it alters our reading and applying of Scripture.

Second he suggests that there be a Liturgically grounded reading of Scripture. Similar to the public readings of the Old Testament, we should emphasize the reading of Scripture in our corporate spaces of worship. In a world of an hour long worship service that is scared to death from boring their congregations, this becomes quite the task. For some, it seems the reading of Scripture in between worship songs is just filler but for others, they are moments of power and inspiration. After all, why is that we sing and who we are truly singing for?

Third, there must be a privately studied reading of Scripture. I can hear some of you thinking, “Hey, this sounds like daily devotions!” Umm, yeah, but it’s a bit more too. Wright states that it is vital for Christians to read, encounter and study the scripture for themselves. And although Western individualism tends to highlight individual reading as the primary mode, he suggests that churches find ways to hear and share the worshippers’ private readings whether it be in small groups or other means.

Fourth Wright states that a reading of Scripture refreshed by appropriate scholarship is needed. He says, biblical scholarship is a gift to the church and we should find ways to incorporate the academy into our local churches (and vice versa – the local church into the academy). So what does this mean? Read Don Miller and Richard Hays. Do a Beth Moore study and have a Bible dictionary hand. Just as we profit from the work of other brilliant minds in our medicine and technology, we as believers would be wise to include biblical scholarship too.

Lastly Wright advocates that the Scriptures be taught by the church’s accredited leaders. How convenient for a recent seminary graduate to include this huh? Not only is he stating that churches need to guard the teaching but also reminding everyone that church leaders need to do more than organize and manage the affairs of the church but to put into practice what it means to live by the “authority of Scripture”. I was moved and convicted of this last point and while I know applying this relies on a congregation to allow its leaders to pursue this, it also means that church leaders must be on the ball with this responsibility as well. So may it be so with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Again, if you have a love for Scripture and mission, I hope you consider reading The Last Word – it’s an excellent book and provides a brilliant perspective on the Word of God.

Thoughts on Scripture from NT Wright’s The Last Word – Post 1 – You Should Read It

Primary Audience – my local church
Secondary – Anyone interested in reading/applying Scripture and reading books regarding it and anyone interested in the work of NT Wright

If you know me personally, you may have heard me talk about how you should be reading NT Wright. If you are an easy sell, I would start with The Last Word. For us evangelicals, a lot rises and falls on our view of Scripture. When reading Wright, the questions concerning his position on Scripture always surface so it makes a bit of sense to begin here. Further, I did not read them in this order and I wish I did.
Wright begins The Last Word by discoursing on thoughts regarding modernity and post-modernity. Wisely, he does not build his case around either but instead aims to offer “a way through this entire mess and middle and forward into a way of living in and for God’s world, and within the community of God’s people, with Christian and biblical integrity” (p. 10).
He is annoyed with the shallow level of debate often depicted in name calling, “fundamentalist” and “radical” and I too share too his frustration with how both sides, conservative and liberal, and the many sides in between try to undermine each other. One position assumes the other has hidden motives or does not love God as much as they do. One side will use the motto, “It must be Biblical” or “The Bible says” and assume that the other side is not committed to that end. One will ignore millennia of tradition, a plethora of the voices of the church fathers, new voices, and reduce the argument to a place that does not acknowledge that one is using a hermeneutic (a method of interpretation).
For instance, the popular term “the Bible says” is a difficult one because everyone believes the Bible is saying something – in fact, we/they believe it’s saying what we/they are saying, otherwise we/they wouldn’t be saying it. Most of these heated debates are anchored to a commitment of Scripture, rooted in a deep love for Christ, and determined to be living in the Spirit that pleases the Father. The problem is that we like to assume that those who differ from us fall short to our piety and devotion to the Lord.
I am among the many who have ceased in using the term in hopes that the person I am in conversation with is also committed to the integrity of Scripture. Perhaps if we commit to the seeing the perspective of “the other”, we can know and experience the deeper truths contained in our Scripture. This is I find to be both difficult and exciting.
More so, I cannot help but apply that to the evangelical reaction towards Wright himself. We are very suspicious of any thought produced from any mainline, charismatic, high church, Orthodox or Catholic church. This post is not an argument from ecumenicalism but perhaps an encouragement to extend grace towards those in different traditions that interpret the Scriptures differently than we do. I know many evangelicals love the Scriptures but it is impossible for me to concede that we love it the most when we account for our collective biblical literacy or even the simple act of bringing a Bible to our corporate worship services. This is not chastisement, and I am not ashamed to be an evangelical, I just want to be a Christ-follower that has not deluded himself into self-righteousness (and would appreciate those within ours and other traditions to do the same).
I hope you consider reading The Last Word – It’s a great read. You can pick it up from Amazon here.

Confession: When I Was a Kid, I Hated Genesis (and I Probably Wouldn’t Have Liked the Rest of the OT Had I Read Any Further)

Primary Audience – My local church context
Secondary Audience – Anyone who has tried reading the Bible from the beginning but gave up.

Growing up as a church kid, I was always bothered by a number of the stories in Genesis. When I say a number of them, I think I mean almost all of them. From the beginning, I was frustrated by the Creation account. If there is a time for honest question-asking to God in heaven, among my first will be why not just multi-task and do it all in one day? I didn’t like the Fall account either. The serpent deceiving Eve (I’ve bought the extended warranty on a video camera because the sales guy was convincing but show me another person that is persuaded by a talking snake. I mean really, when women see snakes they run, they don’t engage in conversation).

Other frustrating stories include the violence of Cain and Abel (where did that come from? A little more context please), the Sodom and Gomorrah account, Lot offering his daughters and Noah’s Flood. Then there’s Abraham: Abraham and Sarah, Abraham and Hagar, Abraham and Ishmael, Abraham and Isaac … And what about Jacob. He’s a diabolical weasel! To make matters worse, everyone that Yahweh blesses and sympathizes with is the one that I like least in the story. My heart always goes out to Eve, Noah’s neighbors, his son Ham, Lot’s wife, Ishmael, and Esau. To say that they get the shaft does not only imply that you are heartless but how do we dare identify that the Bible is an appropriate account of Yahweh’s justice and love?

Had God made me a super-intelligent and extraordinary mixed martial arts fighter, I’d build a time machine and go back to Genesis and kick some butt. But He didn’t, instead I’m only smart enough to go back and watch LOST episodes on my DVR that someone else was smart enough to invent so I can watch people like Sayid kick some butt. I digress but a good butt-kicking for the sake of logic and civility is much-needed in the Genesis account (and I haven’t even delved into the problem of pain and suffering).

So why read Genesis, the Old Testament, or even the New Testament? Well that’s entirely up to you to spend an adequate time to decide but I can tell you why I read, engage, study, reflect, pray to apply, etc. For me it began with a better understanding of the utmost importance of the Resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus really was raised from the dead, a lot obviously changes. If the Giver of life becomes the Redeemer of life and now the Sustainer of life then I believe we can enter a serious discussion regarding origins, after-life, evil, suffering, justice, and hope. I really do.

I could spend a lot of time at unpacking the last paragraph but to conserve space let me move on to my second point. After conceding that Jesus is Lord, this truth allowed be to accept my biased presuppositions regarding my faith, life, and of course the Scriptures. It also helped me confront the fact that I have always been biased and have always brought presuppositions to my interpreting of anything, including the Bible and that there is no such thing as an unbiased reading of anything. We can be disinterested, attempt to be indifferent, apathetic towards the outcome but never actually be unbiased and completely objective. That was quite the game-changer for me.

Further, after conceding that Jesus is Lord, acknowledging my presuppositions allowed me to see my biases as a present-day western, thirty-something, middle class professional man. Throw in my personality, personal history and whatever else, I don’t think the Genesis writer really ever had a chance with me.

Today, I read the Scriptures as a worshipper who hopes to gain from the Scripture. Certain stories still bother me but I also have the presupposition (or the belief) that God is sovereign and loving, I am limited but earnestly trying (most days) and somewhere in all that, I pray that the Holy Spirit will speak to me in my readings, prayers, sermons I hear, writers I read, conversations I enjoy, my children’s’ laugh, my wife’s embrace and the many other corners that God seems to speak to us.

Consequently, over the years, I have come to appreciate much of the Genesis account. As it turns out, the rest of the book is pretty good too. May the Lord bless your soul as you read the Scriptures. Amen.

Our Youth Group Has Dropped It’s Name (What We Are Hoping to Learn From Jacob’s Search For Indentity) – Part 2

Last week, we began the process of our youth group’s collective identity searching by telling this story. One day back in high school, we had a substitute teacher and as he was doing the roll-call, I decided to claim the name of one of the students alphabetized before me. (I wasn’t even that rebellious of a kid but I thought it would be funny). Consequently, my friend took my name. It was Mr. Millheim’s history class and every time the teacher asked a question, I would raise my hand and answer with the most ridiculous response I could. Eventually, he asked what my name was, I responded, “Tobi” and taking pity, he gently told me that I would need to really study my history book if I was going to pass the class. By this point, the class was giggling. He probably figured it was due to my stupidity, but in reality, they were being humored by my first (and only) case of identity theft (Yeah, that’s how advanced I was, I didn’t even know what that was back then ;-)

This was a relatively harmless prank. It’s not like I stole my friend’s grade, credit, or birthright like the way Jacob stole his brother, Esau’s inheritance. For those of you not familiar with the story of Jacob and Esau, they were two brothers born to Isaac (Remember him? The guy that was almost killed as a sacrifice by his father. This is seriously a dysfunctional family. Had DYFUS existed back then, children today would not be singing “Father Abraham had many sons …”). Birthrights were only given to the firstborn and the siblings were expected to serve the elder.

Adding an even worse wrinkle to this story was that Jacob’s accomplice was his mother Rebecca! Working together, they tricked Isaac into giving Esau’s birthright to Jacob. Isaac, old and almost blind, suspected something was amiss and asked, “Which son are you? You have the feel of Esau but the voice of Jacob? Who are you?”

Jacob answered, “I am Esau”.

And so he was blessed, Isaac deceived, and Esau pissed.

To move the story along here, when you steal your brother’s inheritance, you pretty much have to move out of the house in a hurry. So Jacob heads to Haran, meets a pretty girl, Rachel, who hooks him up with a job working on her dad, Laban’s farm. She probably thought, “Now we be together always”. He probably thought, “Pretty girl, a job, a home, and an inheritance – this is the best week ever!” and Laban probably thought, “Sucker.”

As the story goes, Jacob worked for seven years to be allowed to marry Rachel. On the night of the wedding, Laban secretly gave Jacob, Rachel’s sister, Leah. It’s best if we don’t ask questions at this point, all I can imagine is that it must have been really dark and perhaps Jacob got a bit drunk prior to the ceremony but he apparently did not figure it out until the next day. Also and this is just a speculation, perhaps the divorce attorney lived a good distance away or perhaps was neighbors with his brother Esau, but what probably really happened is that you can’t divorce a man’s daughter and expect to marry his other one, especially since marriage was necessary to insure a woman’s survival. (Thus the ancient, social justification of polygamy). so Jacob settled out of court to work another 7 years for Rachel.

Moving the story even further, the two families start realizing that there’s not enough space for their clans, so Jacob runs away again, this time with his wives, kids, stolen sheep and goats (long story but by now you will just believe that he’s good at stealing stuff) but the problem is that he has to go through his brother Esau’s territory to be away from his shady father–in-law. Dilemma.

Sending his family out in front of him with gifts for his brother (who by now is bigger, badder and a tribal leader with a small army. Need a name for a mental picture? I think of a Hebrew Tony Soprano), Jacob stays behind and sleeps in his tent alone. But he’s not alone. As he prays, he wrestles all night with a figure identified as the angel of the Lord.

Finally as the day is breaking, Jacob says he won’t let go until he his blessed. Of all things to say the Lord asks, “What is your name?”. You would think the omniscient one would know that but as it turns out, He’s not the one that needs to “know”. If this were a movie, the camera would zoom into Jacob’s shocked face right now.

Remember the last time he’s asked for his name in the Genesis narrative, he lies. As a result all these years of running, scheming and deceiving have now caught up with him. When he stole his brother’s identity, in some ways, he not only lost his own, but lost his life as well.

When he answers, “Jacob”, in that moment, he finally and fully accepts his failures, his sinful deceit, his selfishness, and the pain that he has caused others. But the beautiful thing is that in the very next moment, he is finally forgiven. The angel says, “No, your name will be Israel. For you have struggled with God and prevailed.”

A lot of time has passed but Israel certainly has a history, a legacy. A few in fact and depending on your theology you are a part of Israel (at least spiritually).

As we wrapped up our time, I tried to explain to our students that their own personal search for identity is going to lead them down many roads and as fellow believers, our Father has called us to search together as a community – to search for our identity collectively and individually. It may be a struggle, but abundant blessings will unfold as we sojourn together. Again, we are not just looking for a name, but looking for who God has called us to be.


I took the liberty in adapting these stories but you should read them in their full context in Genesis 27-32.

Our Youth Group Has Dropped It’s Name (And Begun a Process of Searching For Our Collective Identity) – Part 1

Primary Audience – My local church context
Secondary Audience – Fellow youth workers who would understand how potentially traumatic this is ;-)

As of August 31st, our church youth group shed it’s name “Fusion”. It’s been overdue but  attachments are tricky things. The name was introduced under the former youth pastor (who is a  good guy and a friendship I wish we could enjoy more of), the logo they created was ok , the  purpose statement worked with the theme and most importantly, the students liked it. For me, it  wasn’t a big deal because I’m not really into group names because most of them arelame and all  of them get old. So when I came on 4 years ago, I kept it (but updated the logo).

In the years that followed, I had a hard time every using “Fusion” in a sentence apart from “The name of our youth group is …”. What started to really bother me was that I felt it did not have a deeper connection to who we were as a group. Why are we “Fusion”? Is it rooted in our love of protons, neutrons, and electrons? We don’t call our students nuclei and pray they come together in the name of Jesus and BAM – FUSION. “Activate the reactors – it’s mission trip time!”

Like I said, names are a tricky thing. For instance we have a student leadership/followership team that was called “S.A.L.T.” which stood for “Student Action Leadership Team”. Personally I am not a fain of acronyms (or acrostics) and as the years passed on the SALT team felt more like a student council selected in a manner similar to fantasy football than what was consistent with ministry. So last year we changed the name to “Sugar” because it felt we were too caught up in the name “SALT” and not enough with its group process ( But I do myself wodnering if sugar was around in Jesus’ day, would He have said “You are the Sugar of the world …”?). This year we changed it to “Paprika!” (you can’t say without the exclamation!). And if this year’s team gives us trouble, we’re calling them “Sour Milk” or “ChalkBoard Scratchers”, or “Church Van Vandals” or “Southern Baptists”.

But I digress, the graduating class of 2009 would have been the class to have been my freshmen under the Fusion regime. When they graduated, I thought it was time to make a change.   Instead of breaking out the white board and brainstorming with leaders and students and figuring out a new name, I did what most good pastors do – took a year to think about it, talk about it, change my mind about it, do nothing about it, think about it some more, come to the conclusion we needed to do something about it …

That said, the truth of it was, it’s not just about a name change. We needed to figure out who we are and what God has called us to be. What are we and supposed to be doing and who are we to become collectively and indivudally? Further, we have been discussing what missional Christianity looks like in a student ministry context which meant numerous things. Among them was am I leading and organizing this ministry in a manner consistent with that hope? So it was time for a change and not just a name change but a searching for a new collective identity. These posts will attempt to describe this process, offer our plans, failures, joys and experiences from my perspective. As always, open to your thoughts and suggestions – feel free.

Reviewing Our Experience With the Q Society Room’s “The Whole Gospel”

If you have been reading my twitter and this blog, you probably know my now that I have a strong appreciation for Gabe Lyons and the work of Q. I have attended the last three conferences and they have been pretty solid. To those that don’t know much about it – it’s similar to TED‘s where about 40 speakers give 18 minute presentations (yep there’s a countdown clock to their right). The idea behind Q is to ask and engage in the difficult questions that the Church is facing. You can check out more here on their site but if you don’t click, know that you are missing something excellent.

Among the important conversations the Church is having is the topic of the Gospel of Jesus. Our church is having this conversation in a number of ways and I could think of no better study than using Q’s “The Whole Gospel” from their Society Room series (there are 5 of them).

Here’s my review which includes some of the group feedback
Week 1 – Tim Keel’s which I would be happy to watch with you. I have nothing but love for Keel and thought he absolutely nailed his presentation. (His was a “featured presentation” and was given 36 minutes – probably my favorite. He argues that we have domesticated Jesus, we have taken something wild and tamed it to be polite indoors. Later he mentions that we need to rethink our ideas on heaven. To paraphrase he says, It’s the result, not the goal, the outcome, not the objective. Excellent.

Discussion was vey easy and free-flowing after that. We shared about how understanding of the Gospel growing up in our respective churches. If there was one glitch was that we all agreed too much with each other. It was our first meeting together – maybe everyone was just being polite ;-)

Week 2 was supposed to be our reading of an excellent essay by Ron Martoia. We put it off until our last week so as to not intimidate newcomers and being a new group it was easier too so we watched Tim Keller’s …. instead. We did like the idea of reading together and at week 5, we’ve decided to read The Hole In Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.

If you know Tim Keller, he’s the reformed evangelical pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. In this presentation he says if you understand justification then you will understand the need for social justice. I found it to be extremely helpful for my conservative evangelical climate that does not want to risk compromising the salvation that Jesus brings. If you are one who is skeptical about the efforts of social justice, you would love this. Unfortunately, it is not available for watching online but if you live locally, I would be happy to watch this with you (and yes, it’s legal).

Week 3 was with evangelical hero Chuck Colson. I was in attendance at Q New York and remember this presentation extremely well because just before it, my wife, Susan sent me the most exciting text of our lives, “We’re adopting! The birth mother wants us!” it was pretty surreal and I have a pretty hyper-recollection of the presentation and who was around me. Anyway, I digress.

Just like what I just mentioned a few lines ago, if you are a conservative evangelical and find yourself reluctant to compromising the gospel to social justice – his presentation entitled “Cultural Commission” is for you. You can watch it here. Though as a group we felt that the questions were getting a bit repetitive, it was still an solid presentation and we had a worthwhile discussion. This was the week that we also ended up discussing the Islamic Center near Ground Zero. It was a pretty interesting night to say the least.

Week 4 was awesome watching Jaime Tworkowski – founder of To Write Love On Her Arms. This led to perhaps our most personal conversations as the topics of cutting, depression and the Church’s response to it became the centerpieces of our discussion. From a small group perspective, this presentation was excellent timed as by now, we had felt some trust and comfortability sharing such personal aspects of ourselves and our families and friends.

Week 5 – We moved the .pdf (included in the dvd) to week 5 for our final time. By then, we were ready to talk as soon as we sat down and even better – we loved Martoia’s essay “Spiritual Conversations: Understanding the Cultural Language. In it he reminded readers of Scripture the salvation narrative begins in Genesis 1 not Genesis 3 and that changes everything. He made other worthy points points including calling attention to how we talk about the Gospel. It was very appropriate and I’d be happy to share my extra copies with my local friends. I’d offer to email it to anyone interested but that would break the licensing agreement with the dvd’s intent. Again, if you are reading this and considering this study, I really recommend you purchasing it and checking it their other studies here.

I happily recommend this study and pretty much anything Q is involved in.
Anyone want to go to next year’s conference in Portland? It’s going to be good …

Review of Economy of Love DVD with Shane Claiborne and Isaac Anderson

As part of the Ooze Viral Blogger program, I was given a copy of the “Economy of Love” dvd. Please know that just like all review programs that I know of, the blogger does not have to give a positive review. So this is my honest opinion. So the truth is that I liked it, but I was not amazed by it like I was say, The Irresistible Revolution – Shane set the bar pretty high with that one.  (But Jesus for President was absolutely fantastic).

Like most people, I’m a fan of aesthetics and it’s beautifully packaged and very well-produced. It’s professional and consistent with its theme. I especially loved the fantastic accompanying workbook. It provides a written commentary on what Shane said and a few notes like passage citations and sidebar comments.

F80B2CA3-FB62-4EB6-A354-F93EA6FF5C14.jpgAs always, Claiborne is excellent but those who have been following him for a while may be disappointed that they are not going to hear anything “new”.  I know he is more a practitioner and not a innovator but I’m just speaking as a reviewer who likes Claiborne but wasn’t particularly moved by the work. Know that it pains me to write that. If I can unpackage that a bit, I mean I’d like to understand more of perhaps the meditations and actions after The Irresistible Revolution as opposed to new ways and methods to think about the poor. I think we have become bored by the impovered, it’s probably due to the lack of ministering to them. However, more on the relational tithe would have been cool too. Maybe for future projects on a deeper look at the practices, “programs”, reflections of the Simple Way/Potter Street and how they can be adapted in different settings, rural, suburban, etc. As the risk of sounding overly critical, this would have been more helpful shortly after the release of Irresistible Revolution

However, if you are new to Shane’s work and ideas and if you are not going to read IR, there is no better place to start. But you should consider reading Irresistible Revolution.

Initially I was not sure what I would do with this work. At 3-5 minutes, the clips are very short which are nice in a sense because they leave time for discussion (if you have a group geared for that but they are short). There are 5 clips and the chapters are “Tension”, “Enough”, “Vulnerable”, “Filled”, & “Practice”. I’ve watched the series a few times now over the last week and a half and have thought of a few things. They make great sermon clips in traditional churches. I may may use the “Enough” chapter next time I preach to our suburban congregation. The clip being short will allow me to provide commentary around it.

Perhaps to consider a possible place for this work is in an Adult Sunday School setting or small group setting. I also wondered about our Ministry Commission Meetings (just brainstorming but I imagined one of our elders’ meetings. We have great elders, I think they would be moved by clips like “Vulnerable”). In addition to using them as a back-drop, they could simply be used as a home study group curriculum but I think the facilitator would have to bring some work to the table after the second week’s worth of dialogue dries up. Still, I’ll probably use it in our youth ministry, wished it was released last year (doh!). We’ve talked a great deal about generosity, stewardship, and the gospel that seeks to meet the local, global, personal, social, physical, emotional, spiritual needs of others. We’ve done Advent Conspiracy for a few years too.

All that said, the content cannot be better said in a such a concise amount of time. Shane’s words are very appropriate and as always, his presence comes across well – I think most audiences will find him very likable.

It’s definitely worth the $9.35 (from Amazon!)

Judge for yourself here’s a clip.

Economy of Love: Trailer from The House Studio on Vimeo.

Recommending You Check Out the Music of Zach Williams

I can’t believe it’s been this long but two Thursdays ago, I was with a few friends listening to the great music of Zach Williams at the Bowery Ballroom. He’s among the artists that you should be listening to (like right here)

Zach has a great voice, excellent lyrics, a joy to watch live – He puts on a great show. Also worth mentioning are his fans that were at the Bowery. Obviously, fans show up to shows, that’s not new. But what I thought was interesting is that Zach leads worship at a church plant in Brooklyn but has managed to keep that “leading worship” world separate from the “performing music and artistry” world at the Bowery … but still include the same people. It was cool and as one who has never seen him in a worship-leading context, I found myself thinking about that.

The first time I had seen Zach was at last year’s Q Conference in Austin … at 9AM. Who’s good at 9AM? Zach Williams is. He sang “Names That Fell” with so much passion and energy that we almost dropped our Rwandan Thousand Hills coffee (which is great coffee – you can get it here. And no, these are not sponsors, just trying to support good stuff). I could go on and on about the music of Zach but here’s a video of “I’m Not the One” and “Names That Fell” at the Bowery – you can decide for yourself (“Names” comes in about 4:40 seconds or so).

One last video that my friend Matt told me about. Zach’s wife was involved in a life-threatening accident. I briefly met them at Q, never had any idea. He tells the story here – it’s a powerful 7 minutes born out of pain, confusion, supportive friendships, loyalty of love,  and the celebration of healing – among the necessary substances of great marriages.

Support great indie artists and buy his album from iTunes.

Reflecting on the Events of 9-11 Nine Years Later – The Power of Jesus’ Forgiveness – Part 2

Primary Intended Audience – My local Christian context.
Secondary Intended Audience – Christians and anyone interested in seeing this through the Christian lens.

As the events of September 11th unfolded, I was in a church staff meeting. We were conference calling and the person on the other side of the phone was watching television and at first said, “Oh wow, a plane hit the Twin Towers.” Like many, we assumed that it was a small plane. As our meeting continued, the person exclaimed, “Another one just hit!” And so began hours of watching television, listening to the radio and of course, reading websites (bear in mind, the internet was a bit different 9 years ago). Then the Pentagon, then a crash somewhere in Pennsylvania, planes still unaccounted for and we were gripped by fear that imagined endless possibilities. i had family relatives in Tower 1 – an aunt and a cousin. My phone rang from a man in our church who was frantic – one of his closest friends was on the 57th floor of one. The phone rang again and a friend from college told me his father worked inside and wanted me to pray for him. When the Towers fell, which seemed so unimaginable to me, the hope of my prayers seemed to dissipate. It would not be for hours until I heard from my mom that our relatives were ok, and that my friends’ loved ones had also survived. But by then, the body count was adding up and the joy of survival was personal relief in the midst of national suffering.

In addition to the surrealness of the day, as details unfolded of the attackers, I clearly remember feeling angry and that feeling would go through different stages directed at different people and populations for quite a while. In addition to being an American, my family is Egyptian, Christian-Egyptian in fact. My parents, grandparents and family ancestry have suffered extensive persecution at the hands of Muslims (extremists and nominal nationalists) for centuries. I felt that I could not escape the anger and as I mentioned yesterday’s post that it was not until the 5 year anniversary that I realized that this anger had a control over me. It was a complicated anger for a number of reasons but primarily in some sense, not remaining angry felt disloyal to my family, unpatriotic and even somehow unChristian.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog the beauty of forgiveness and the liberation experienced as a result. But how is this possible in this case; was it even appropriate? Eventually I started realizing that not forgiving the terrorist gave an exception in Jesus’ mandate of not just showing love to everyone but to loving our enemies. This is where the life of Jesus offers us a great deal of relevance. Had the story of Jesus ended prior to His crucifixion, I may have found the exception or the “loophole” in loving our enemies. Jesus clearly had enemies. One could make a case that he did not always show compassion to them. Among numerous feuds and confrontations, He called them snakes, fools, hypocrites and “white-washed tombs”. It was not until His death, when He felt the furthest from the Father, that He asked Him to forgive them, “for they know not what they do.”

Could I/we have a higher standard of forgiveness than Jesus? It seemed relevant to ask what were the consequences of having an admittedly lower standard of forgiveness? At the risk of sounded sacrilegious, what were the ramifications of wallowing in our suffering and limitations of humanity and being content on hating those who persecute us and quietly despising those who did not defend us? Why not punt the ball of forgiveness away and retreat into a defense posture? Franky, it seemed almost natural.

Around the five year mark, I began to untangle my patriotism from my loyalty to the Kingdom of God. Let me be clear here – this is not to say that I loved America any less. In fact, as the years have passed, I am only more grateful for my country and to my parents for immigrating here. I still grieve these horrific events and still despise evil (though it’s a larger scope than I ever realized and it’s not just the evil of the jihadist but includes my own and everything in between). But as I began to understand what it meant to follow Jesus, my greatest allegiance is to God. As I unpackaged that (and believe me there’s a long sermon here), I began to see God’s love for the world, despite its evil and flawed desperation and of course, I began to see my own failures, sin and pride. God seemed to be the only one who had anything worthy to offer.

I began to really wrestle with the idea, “Is Jesus really Lord of it all?” or is that a sentiment expressed so that I can force His divine hand to bring blessings to my life, family and nation? Further, I began to see that these claims of loving our neighbors, loving our enemies, and forgiving them was only possible if Jesus really was Lord. When Jesus teaches his the crowd in the Sermon of the Mount in Matthew 5 and tells his followers to turn the other cheek and walk the second mile, there is a context that I needed to realize. Commentators will say that the attackers were not their neighbors but most likely, the Roman soldiers. In an effort to keep this post only moderately long, Roman rule mandated that a soldier could force someone to carry their gear (the term ‘mile’ is used for our sake). Often this was another humiliation that the Jews endured from the occupying Romans. Until then, the Jews felt that they needed to either fight back or wallow in this persecution. But Jesus’ words frees them.

By offering the other cheek and by offering to volunteer to walk the second mile for the enemy, you have freed yourself from their oppression. They are no longer in control because of the willingness to respond in love to retaliate not with anger or violence but in humility. To say it in first person, “When I walk the second mile for you, my enemy, it is to demonstrate that you do not control me, I am not afraid of you, i would willingly do this for a friend and I am willingly doing it for you.”

Some have adapted Jesus’ words such as:
“Am I not destroying my enemies when I make a friend of them?” – Abraham Lincoln
“I will never let another man ruin my life by making me hate him” – George Washington Carver
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” – Martin Luther King

I want to also include the utmost importance of the resurrection of Jesus for it is the greatest announcement of life. “I have come to bring life to the full.” It is life now and forever and it knows no bounds. Let others promise the absurdity of perpetual virgins, food, drink and carnal pleasures (a heavenly Playboy mansion if you will), I’d rather know the presence of God. Death is what the terrorists have threatened us with, fear is their emotional ammunition that suffocates hope. How fitting that Jesus comes to bring life and faith is not only the shield against fear but also the sword to destroy it making it possible for us to hope again and still not be foolish.

On Saturday night, I showed this video that was arranged by 9-11 pictures and had Bruce Springsteen’s “My City of Ruin” from The Rising album. Honestly, I don’t really like most of these types of videos (overly dramatic and emotionally manipulative many times) but this one is beautiful.

Reflecting on the Events of 9-11 Nine Years Later – Part 1

This past Saturday night, our Second MIle Group (a ministry geared for 20’s & 30’s) gathered to reflect on the events of 9-11 on its nine year anniversary. We spent time being led in worship by Glenn (beautiful song selection) and a liturgy of service written by Thomas Turner who included adaptations of other church’s prayers offered in the midst of suffering and pain. We listened to a member of our church telling us how he got out of Tower 1 that fateful day and what was going on his mind then and since. I shared a message and then we broke up in groups to discuss what we were thinking and how we are processing this, the Islamic Center in Manhattan, a post 9-11 America and the many other topics attached.

But why do this especially in light of living in the NYC metro and therefore carrying a great deal of emotion for so many of us in the community? Though it was completely understandable when people expressed uncertainty about coming or stating that they weren’t, we had confidence that the night would help bring hope and healing. As one who appreciates conversation and the idea of collectively figuring things out together (hence my appreciation for small groups, twitter and blogging), this seemed appropriate. And what better place than our church?

It was 5 years ago when I came to the conclusion that I needed to rethink how I processed this tragedy. I was flying with a one way ticket from Boston to Atlanta, connecting in Charlotte on the 5 year anniversary of 9-11. Being Egyptian, I was randomly screened just about every time I flew. (Every so often someone says to me, “But you were born in the States, you’re a Protestant-Christian pastor, etc” Among the many sad lessons of 9-11 is that you cannot take chances). For the most part, I was ok with it because I really wanted to the plane to land safely as well. But by my second security check and my treatment in Charlotte, my anger caught up with me. I boarded the plane, sat down, and found myself too frustrated to read. For me it was a shame, because the day before one of my best friends got married and I had the honor of giving the English message and served as co-best man. I stared out the window acknowledging that my anger over the events of 9-11 controlled me and I needed to change.

Tomorrow, I plan on posting what came next for me. In the meantime, are you content with your feelings towards the event of 9-11? Where are you in that process? Have you stopped trying to resolve it and attempted to cast it out of the forefront of your mind? How one deals with the magnitude of evil and tragedy of that day will reflect one’s belief system and what lies in their soul. Sounds dramatic I know. But it’s true.