My Review of Jolt! by Phil Cooke – The Better of the Self Help Stuff

I was given a copy to review Phil Cooke’s new book Jolt! a few weeks ago by Book Sneeze. You should know that I am not required to give a positive review and that these words are as honest as they can be.

Here’s a bit of context first:
Who is Phil Cooke?
According to his bio:  Phil Cooke, a writer, speaker, and filmmaker, is changing the way business, church, and nonprofit leaders influence and engage the culture. Christianity Today calls him a “media guru.” His media company, Cooke Pictures, advises many of the largest and most effective churches and nonprofit organizations in the world. A founding partner in the commercial production company TWC Films, he also produces national advertising for some of the largest companies in the country. His books and online blog at are changing the way religious and nonprofit organizations tell their story. He’s lectured at universities, such as Yale, University of California at Berkeley, and UCLA and is an adjunct professor at the King’s College and Seminary and Biola University in Los Angeles. His new book is Jolt!: The Power of Intentional Change in a World that’s Constantly Changing.

I like Phil Cooke. I saw him make a presentation on social media at the Collyde Summit and bought a few of his other books like Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don’t . When I first heard about Jolt!, I was underwhelmed because I didn’t like the title (it reminded me of the Wham! Sock! Jolt!i in the old Batman tv series). Then I read that it was a self-help type of book and I’m not really into those. I already have enough help making me wish I had someone else’s life. In fact, I think there should be more books about how my life is so good and why you should want me to keep it the way it is. :)  By the way, if this is your first time on my blog, sarcasm and self-deprecation are consistent themes here.

But since I agreed to review it, I thought I’d give a good and fair skim. However, as I was skimming, I liked what I saw so then I started reading it. Further what drew me in at the Collyde Summit kept me interested here and that’s Phil’s personality. It occurred to me that most of the self-help stuff I read and resented could be based on the fact that I thought the writer was pretentious. In all honesty, I never really wanted their lives because I am more interested in a better version of my own. And that’s what Jolt! is about.

It’s called Jolt! because Phil describes that everyone needs a shake-up to get them out the holding pattern they feel stuck in. You need to get jolted out of it … Admittedly, it’s better than Wham! and Sock and Your Better Life Now :)

Who Should Read It:
Those who already like self-help/personal improvement/leadership/organizational management books. If this is your thing, I believe this is up your ally.
Those who never read these aforementioned books. Let’s face it, part of the reason we probably don’t like these books because it reminds us of failed resolutions and bring up guilt. I’ll be the first to say there are a lot of bad books in this field, I feel this is an excellent one.
I could see a church staff or a non-profit read this together.
I could also see a small group of young professional types reading it. (Though more ideal for those working together).

What  I Liked:
It’s Christian without speaking Christianese. I’ve seen other self-help types written by Christians to be very shallow and almost divorced from the faith they claim to espouse. Phil has a good balance of wisdom without the preachy sermon. I assume this balance is informed by being a pastor’s kid and working in the television/film industry. In any case, the last third is definitely more Christian and is a part of the section “Jolt Your Future”.

The quotes like:
“None but a coward dares to boast that he has never known fear.” – Ferdiand Foch, WWI French Military General
“Everything communicates” – Brad Abare, branding and organizational consultant.
“Attention is one of the most valuable modern resources. If we waste it on frivolous communication, we will have nothing left when we really need it.” – John Freeman, The Tyranny of E-mail.

I liked who inspired Phil like Thomas Edison, CS Lewis, Winston Churchill, Seth Godin, Jim Collins, etc.

I can’t say enough about Phil’s tone. He’s urgent without being annoying. He’s not motivational in the sense that he’s dangling a carrot in front of you, it’s more inspiring. And I believe that’s why I don’t classify this as a typical self-help book.

Lastly, I liked its relevance for today’s reader. He talks a lot about social media, our fast-paced world, and the entertainment industry. As mentioned, I don’t read a ton of these types of books, but I know this seems unique to what’s out there (and what I’ve alread read).

What I Would Have Liked to Have Seen:
More quotes.
Perhaps an appendix of resources, suggested periodicals, sites, tools, management systems, etc.

So if you need a change but are suspicious of these types of books, I do think Jolt! will be a good thing for you.
Order it here through Amazon ($15)

For more check out his site and watch his promo video

How Youth Workers Can Avoid Camping-like Tendancies

Primary Audience – Fellow Youth Pastors/youth workers
Secondary Audience – Anyone Who Wants to Eavesdrop

You may have heard by now that Harold Camping has updated his doomsday to October 21st. There are a few things that this Camping hype was good for. One is the needed conversation about the return of Jesus. There is a lot of fear and bad theology out there and it was good to identify and hopefully offer something in the midst of the hoopla. So while there are numerous annoying aspects to these doomsday predictions, there are some excellent opportunities for conversations as well. The second benefit is all the great jokes we got to laugh at.

But that’s not the point of the post. As youth pastors, we all have the potential to take ourselves too seriously. We could spend another post just on that line. There are many reasons ranging why  from responding to the perceived disrespect to lack of self-awareness to our anticipated entitlement to the sincere attempt at addressing problems in the Church. Certainly these things are not limited to our profession but I have found that anytime one is competing for attention and attendance, these demons creep up.

Enter what we can learn from Harold Camping. Clearly, he took himself too seriously and obviously this is not a recent development for him. In a previous post I asked if he was delusional or deceitful (and I still think it’s a bit of both), but I think he is motivated by wanting to be remembered as a significant figure in the Church. He wants fame like Billy Graham (I mean the name of his ministry is a rip-off of Dobson right?) and I speculate some of this outlandish behavior is a cry for that. Clearly he is not self-aware and has no one in his life that can help with constructive criticism here.

Now, I don’t really know any youth workers who can compete with the scale of Camping’s hysteria but I have seen damage caused my unchecked egos, a lack of self-awareness and the hurt caused by desperate acts. Even at our seemingly most sincere moments, the desire to want to be remembered and regarded as important voices in the lives of our students can turn against ourselves and those we hope to serve if we are not Spirit-led.

Here are a few thoughts on what we can learn from Harold Camping.

1. We carry all of our unresolved issues throughout our lives. But worse, they mutate to uglier disorders that will cause more hurt as we age.
We must pray for strength to confront the issues in our lives, surround ourselves with godly people and be diligent in spiritual formation.

2. There is a tendency to misuse the Bible to forward our own agendas thereby polluting its message of salvation, redemption and hope.
We must read the Scriptures intelligently, faithfully, and humbly.

3. Even with sincere attitudes of wanting to see change, increase numbers and impact, all leaders/speakers have the potential of objectifying their audiences/listeners. When this happens, we have betrayed our calling and betrayed those we claim to be serving.        
We must remember the possible consequences to our words and actions and must be sure that our intentions are Christ-like and void of personal agenda.

4. It’s one thing to predict who your favorite sports team winning a championship and it’s another thing to guess the gender of a unborn baby but never publicly predict anything apocalyptic. Never. And should you be stupid enough to do it once, don’t do it again and again and again and …

5. Anyone got anything for number 5?

Talking to High Schoolers About “End of the World” Fear

Back when I was in Jr. High, the world was scheduled to end. It was 1988 and there was a popular book out called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988. It was written by Ima Krazeman but he went by the name Edgar C. Whisenant. For whatever reason, my dad drove me to school that unfateful day and I asked him if it was true that the world would end. He gave me that look like, “Are you an idiot?”, but because my father is loving, he changed his face and tone and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll see you at dinner.” Which turned out to be true so I regard my father as more qualified at predictions than Whisenant and Harold Camping.

There’s always an “End of the World” prediction lurking somewhere in pop-culture. Whether it be a Nostradamus prediction at the checkout line or a summer blockbuster movie or a guy on a New York street corner preaching that it’s time to “turn or burn”. There are also more sophisticated ways of communicating humanity’s demise – like the Discovery Channel’s many features or Y2K or Al Gore’s televangelism ministry. I mean speaking of Gore, besides not literally standing on a street corner and having nicer hair, I’m not really sure what the difference is between him and the “bullhorn guy”. His “scriptures” are the scientific research that he puts his faith in. In any case, it seems every 10 years or so, we have an end of the world prediction from a rich white guy.

For many of us, this is all non-sense and even after a few moments of letting our imagination run away, its relatively easy to dismiss. But I have found for young people like Sr. High students, that there is a good bit of fear created. If you ask some, they are inclined to tell you that a scenario like Jake Gyllenhaal’s “The Day After Tomorrow” is possible because of what we are doing to our planet. What I also found is that many of our Christian students (and Christian adults!) are afraid of the return of Jesus.

A quick pause here because I know some of you – I’m all for stewardship of our planet (in fact, I was just voted “Greenest Youth Pastor” at a recent local youth pastor gathering. The prize was a used napkin). But the scenarios in these doomsday movies don’t hold much merit for me. In a world where anything is possible, it seems the wiser thing is to trust in a God that cares for humanity and creation than to fear cosmic destruction from arbitrary means. But I digress.

It’s been my observation that the people who talk most about the end of the world and the rapture are generally older people. From my thirty-something perspective, it seems that they want to avoid the process of dying. It’s been my experience and continued observation that those who most resist the idea of the end of the world and the rapture are younger people. Among the reasons, they too would like to experience the joys of physical intimacy or to be blunt – sex. Mention this to a bunch of young Christian married couples who were raised in church and they will all tell you some version of the nightmare they had about Jesus ripping the roof off their sanctuary after the pastor declares them husband and wife. “Noooo, we read I Kissed Dating Goodbye and now were going to Punta Cana for our honeymoon, please Jesus, come back next week!”

Things like the “Left Behind” series that create this idea of being “rapture-ready”, sermons and youth group lessons that only focus on the “Christ coming to judge the world” and listening to someone say, “If you are paying attention to what’s going on in the Middle East then you know these are the end times. It’s predicted in Scripture as plain as day …” has created a theme of fear that has been picked up by our young people. In the hope of creating urgency to live faithful in anticipation of the return of Jesus and our fascination with the more sensational elements of Scripture has blinded us to the more beautiful aspects of Scripture.

As a youth pastor, I try to find the balance of these things. Frankly, I am enjoying this season of life and am grateful to God for many things. I understand that not all people feel this way. Theologically I also understand that being in the presence of God will be the greatest experience beyond our imagination. When asked ‘What will heaven be like?’ I try to explain that if you have never wanted a moment to end, that’s a foretaste of something even more beautiful than that. In a good season or a tough one, this seems to be a helpful way of understanding the hope of the afterlife in the presence of God.

And then we turn to how the New Testament describes the return of Jesus. Often, it is described as a wedding and the church is described as the bride, and Jesus is the groom. I find that very fitting and mildly surprising. A lot of different types of imagery could have been used but Paul, John and the author of Hebrews use the metaphor of a wedding. Feel free to check out passages like Ephesians 5:23-40, Hebrews 12:22-23, John 3:28-3 and Revelation 19:6-8, 21:1-2, 9-11.

Every bride anticipates her wedding day and this is how the Church should anticipate the return of Jesus and our students responded well to that. Now this whole post is contextualized to the believer of Jesus. I have no answer for those outside the Christian faith. I think it’s extremely important that Christians not use the return of Jesus as an “evacuation route” and evangelize with tactics of fear and hype but rather to see Jesus’ return as a loving, hopeful, beautiful thing – describing it like the greatest of all weddings.

Is Harold Camping Deceitful or Delusional?

This past Sunday’s night “God at the Pub” discussion centered around Harold Camping, the return of Jesus and the end of the world. It was an excellent night and I hope to blog a bit of our conversation in a couple of posts.

Why would you go so far out of your way to predict the end of the world?
If you are wrong, you have not only embarrassed yourself, everyone you are associated with and the Church. And while I am not sure you can embarrass God (I mean can God really blush?), I do feel such antics do bring embarrassment and shame in the eyes of non-believers. Further, if you are wrong, you have created fear, maybe even panic, watered down your message and as we seen, become a punchline. It should also be noted that he’s not speaking for the Church, he is actually saying that Christians need to leave the church (and this is partially why he claims Jesus is coming). The one blessing is that he is disassociating himself from the Church.

So the question needs to be asked – why do this?

Is Harold Camping Deceitful?
The most common assumption for the campaign and possible deceit is money.
But as that relates to Camping, he is already wealthy. In fact, he is so wealthy that he (or his ministry, Family Radio) spent $3 Million on this campaign! He’s 89, how much more money does he think he needs? Further, 89 is an odd time to swindle. So I don’t think he is financially-motivated.

Is Harold Camping Delusional?
I understand that this is a potentially an offensive question but baring the facts, I think it must be asked. To some extent, Yes, I do think Camping is delusional. I do think it’s partially his age. But I also think that he is so desperate to leave a legacy that he is willing to create any type of attention to have it. He’s looking back at his life, he’s not satisfied and wants to be remembered.
I picture a few things:
1. He’s inspired by Donald Trump’s playbook – any hype is good hype.
2. He has surrounded himself with either a circle of “Yes Men” or created a system where there is no accountability or council.
3. He looks at old pictures, contemplates his labor and desperately wants to be remembered.

So I do think he is a bit delusional at this point. But after a careful look at his website, here’s why that isn’t a satisfactory answer either. His website (though completely aesthetically hideous. Should have spent some of the $3 million here) is a huge apologetic to his thesis. Meaning he’s not some old guy just rambling on the air (like a senile version of Rush Limbaugh) – he’s thought his argument through and I think he’s being a bit deceitful. If you have listened to him speak, he does seem to have some sense of self-awareness left (some). He is trying desperately to persuade and this is different than a prophet. The prophet proclaims “to whoever has hears” ear but this televangelist is a salesman and he has a pitch to win you over.

What Happens When His Prophecy of Jesus’ Return Not Happen on May 21st?
I guarantee you that Camping has not cancelled his routine doctor’s appointments next week. And while it’s humorous to think that he’s house-hunting in Pakistan (They’ll never of looking here again”), he’s old, he can’t run, not even emotionally – He’s not going into hiding.

This is tenth prediction, he knows he will be forgiven, this time he’s holding on to hope that he won’t be forgotten. That’s his worst fear and that’s why he is being delusional and bit deceitful.

Review of The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family

If you like Matthew Paul Turner (Jesus Needs New PR) and appreciated his hilarious semi-autobiographical tale of growing up in a Conservative/fundamentalist home Churched and you appreciate history, Andrew Himes’ new book The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family is a fantastic read. It’s a legitimate, historical and academic account of not just a fundamentalist upbringing upbringing but growing up in practically the royal family of fundamentalism.

I know what some of you are thinking – Who is Andrew Himes?? I didn’t know either until I stumbled upon him on MPT’s blog. He is one of the grandsons of John Rice who was a pastor, revivalist and published the newsletter of the fundamentalist movement – “The Sword of the Lord”. I’ll put to you this way – John Rice helped launch Billy Graham’s career. At his funeral, Jerry Falwell called him “God’s man for the hour” and Andrew tells the story of how he did everything he could to not debate Falwell at the reception of his grandfather’s funeral.

Andrew was also the black sheep of the family. I know what you are thinking – How hard can it be to be a black sheep of a fundamentalist family? I mean, put on a pair of jeans and listen to a few songs on the radio and your fundie grandmother will cry herself to sleep while praying for your wicked soul. But first, it seemed that Grandma Rice was an incredible woman (he talks highly about that). Second, Andrew really was liberal – at one point he was a Vietnam war protesting Marxist at the University of WI and this was his path for the next 10 years.  Yeah, when growing up in the 60’s-70’s, that qualifies as a rebel in most American families.

Aesthetically, it’s not a pleasing book and I fear that people who would really enjoy the content will be turned off by the cover and it’s probably a terribly titled book because it contains the words “American Fundamentalism” and “sword”. But if there is ever a time to NOT judge a book by its cover, it’s this one.

Who This Book Is For:
… those who love history, specifically church history. However, because Christian fundamentalism became so big in this last century, there is so much American history here as well. Andrew chronicles his family history immigrating from Ireland, then where his ancestors were during the civil war, their involvement with the KKK, their rejection of the KKK, their personal involvement in the Civil Rights movement, the Scopes Trial and their deep connections with figures like Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell. It’s a pretty incredible family history and even more compelling because Andrew is able to call out the missteps while also sharing the blessings.
Those who want to see how fundamentalism mutated from a good idea to what we have today. Pretty fascinating.
Those who want to see how “control” has always been one of the most damaging themes throughout church history. Pretty tragic.
There’s even a Mark Driscoll reference. Yep, Andrew calls him a fundamentalist.  (Hey, they’re both in Seattle, hmmm).
There’s a Kenda Dean reference from her stellar book Almost Christian.  Yep, Andrew thinks her points are brilliant.

Why I Am So Interested In It
As a Liberty University graduate, I get fundamentalism but also, there’s so much I don’t get. Frankly, I almost didn’t make it at Liberty  (I tried to drink the Kool-Aid but eventually, I threw it back up). Had it not been for a the honest words of a few religion professors and falling in love with the beautiful woman who would become my wife, and some great friends, I would have transferred.  Between the history and the Jerry Falwell pieces, I found this compelling.

The Sword of the Lord brings such a focused context from the Rice family and Andrew narrates the fundamentalist monologue so well (without villainizing).  As the book winds down, you get a sense of how Billy Graham is feeling the need to do something different, which will be later called the “Evangelical Movement”.  Which by the way, he becomes my favorite figure of the book (a testimony of Andrew’s fair writing).

The book finishes with a few of Andrew’s reflections and I only wish he had written more and maybe he will in a future book.  In any case, I hope you read this.  Here are a few links and he’ll be speaking live today at Town Hall Seattle and you can watch the Live Stream here at 5PST.  Today is the book’s release date, you can buy it here through Amazon.

You can also check out his telling of his questioning because of his own church’s racism.


Watch live streaming video from andrewhimes at

Reflecting on the Death of Osama Bin Laden – Post 4 – Loving Our Enemies Has a Context

“What does it mean to love our enemies?” is the question I have been grappling with.

Let me begin to identify what I think it doesn’t mean.
When Jesus instructs us as followers to turn the other cheek, I don’t think it means if your younger sister/daughter is sexually assaulted, give them your neighbor’s sister/daughter. When Jesus says to pray for those who persecute you, I don’t think it also means to aid them in more efficient means of harming you. And I don’t think when he prays to the Father to forgive the crowd at Calvary that He is asking to also keep them free from justice and keep them blind in their ignorance.

I know even those who disagree with me here will agree that we need to appreciate the context of Jesus’ words. Jesus is talking to Jews whose land is being occupied by the Romans. Further, their religious leaders are not looking after the people’s best interest but rather many are not only not defending them but actually exploiting them. So as a young Jewish man gets pushed around while looking for work, Jesus is telling him to not retaliate. Because in so many words, when you do, you yield your control to your enemy/persecutor. So after being slapped in the face, instead of pulling out your dagger and defending your honor, demonstrate your resilience by offering them the other side of your face. This is similar to the idea of the second mile. When forced to carry the soldier’s gear, volunteer your kindness by walking another. You are demonstrating your freedom that God Himself has given you. This is in part what Jesus is saying.

We as 21st century Christians “occupying” the United States have a different perspective in contrast to the aforementioned first century Israeli. I firmly believe that while Jesus’ words still carry much essential relevance to us today, He would have said something different had He been preaching to us now. (I also think He would have said something different had He had the platform to speak to the Romans of His day but that’s another story).

From where I sit, loving our enemies includes many things including: praying for them, expressing kindness to them when possible, seeking resolve, offering peace, etc. I think it’s worth asking, “What does praying for our enemies actually mean?” Am I praying they enjoy a long healthy life, enjoy the love of a good woman, well-adjusted children and the adoration of their grandchildren? Am I praying the Lord will make their paths straight. Am I praying their mission of my destruction be accomplished?

I’ll tell you what I am picturing when I pray for my enemies. That their hearts will be changed by the Holy Spirit. I know how that sounds. But I pray the violent will lay down their weapons and schemes, accept the nearness and love of God Himself. May they also enjoy the benevolence of the world and I pray the world would be generous in loving, giving, and forgiving and may it begin with the Church.

And what about ourselves and others? Loving ourselves, our families, the strangers in our midst also means those things and includes self-defense, standing up for the weaker, taking the plight of the oppressed and seeking the discernment between selfless kindness and moral justice in all situations. Because we cannot enable or cheer on our enemies as they destroy the weaker. In fact, we must act decisively to stop them.

Loving our enemy also brings the notion of correcting our enemy (depending on the position of course). Just as we correct those we love, when our motivation is not rooted in selfishness, correcting our enemy is an act of love. In this way, we are to rebuke our enemy, forgive our enemy, do whatever is appropriate to convert our enemy to our friend. But it also means disciplining our enemy. But this works both ways. We too must be willing to be corrected by our enemy, rebuked, and forgiven by them.

I find Dietrich Bonhoeffer to be helpful here. His participation in the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler bears great significance to me. In Ethics, Bonhoeffer makes a theological case for human rights as God’s will and as His gift. “Since by God’s will human life on earth exists only as bodily life, the body has a right to be preserved for the sake of the whole person. Since all rights are extinguished at death, the preservation of bodily life is the very foundation of all natural rights and is therefore endowed with special importance” (p. 154). Thus he argus that Hitler’s euthanasia policy is a violation of God’s will and the basic right to life.

Later he creates an analogy that if a plague broke out on a ship that had no facilities for isolation, the healthy could only be saved by the death of the sick. “In this case, the decision would have to remain open” (p. 154). History tells us the decision he went with. (I have borrowed and paraphrased this section from the recent book Bonhoeffer and King edited by Jenkins and McBride.)

I think of other villains like Joseph Kony, human traffickers, the Somali pirates and terrorists in general. It’s nearly impossible to tolerate an argument that says, “We are turning young boys into child-soldiers because of Western Imperialism” or “We are selling young girls and boys as prostitutes because of our poverty” or “We are strapping bombs to ourselves and jumping on buses and trains because we are offended by your materialism and hedonism.” Sometimes propaganda is another person’s gospel and sometimes it’s just deceit.

Now to OBL. Does loving our enemies mean enabling evil-doers? Does praying for enemies mean pardoning a man who killed thousands and ruined the lives of countless more? Like I keep saying, I’m wrestling with the thought of killing an unarmed man. It does frustrate me that the initial reports have changed (from shooting an automatic weapon to being unarmed). There is goodness in bringing such a villain to trial.

That didn’t happen. So what is my response?

In an attempt at being consistent, as I do not believe in theocracies, my posts are geared towards us as a church (in America) should respond. Thus I mourn the evil of that makes such decisions necessary. I pray for the remainder of my enemies that they will allow the Spirit to change their hearts before it’s too late.  May me and my community do our part and may we be faithful with the opportunities the Lord has entrusted us with.

As always, know that I welcome the push-backs of my loving sisters and brothers.

Reflecting on the Death of Osama Bin Laden – Post 3 – What Does it Mean to Love Our Enemies?

I have obviously hesitated in posting recently. Not out of fear, I am entitled to my opinion but out of sensitivity. I’ve been mentioning in my previous posts that I found some reactions to the death of OBL to be too jubilant. In others I’ve questioned the practicality of some of the very spiritual updates/tweets/sentiments. And I want to be sensitive to some measure. I’ve also been dialoguing with my high school students regarding this. We even had a discussion night about it. So, I want to be pastoral, wise, and helpful to them and of course, to you as well.

First, thank you to those who commented on the previous post – really appreciated reading your thoughts. It’s always interesting to me that I think I get as many (or even more!) emails and Facebook messages than I do comments. Which is fine – it’s probably wise for some of you to not say some things in a public space. I would encourage you though to share your thoughts every once in a while here – it may prove to be beneficial for us as a whole.

If this is your first time reading this blog, you should know a couple things. I am not a pacifist though I prefer the path of non-violence. Most importantly, I am a Christian and since I see myself as a Christian first and an American second (tI feel this would be consistent with New Testament teaching), I am more interested in how the Church (specifically the conservative evangelical church) should be responding than how our government/president/military does. Hope that makes some sense.

And so because I foremost seek my identity in God and not the State, I hope the Church contributes to counter-balance some of the perspectives found in society. Further, I am grateful and proud to live in a country that values open society and the freedom to express one’s voice in a manner that does not harm others. I try to never take this for granted.

All week, I’ve been wrestling with the question of “What does it mean to love our enemies?”. Now, I have a lot of faults and shortcomings so know that I am aware of this but every so often, I practice my Christianity and among those practices is praying for my enemies. Ultimately, I do not believe that a war will solve our differences and as naive as it sounds, I believe peace can only be achieved when hearts and minds change and that includes ours. That’s the big picture.

I pray that my heart changes and that the hearts of my enemies change. But that does not mean that all I ought to do is pray. Wisdom and practicality are also needed, otherwise you might be accused of being indifferent to living which is poor stewardship because God is the giver of life and He expects to be faithful with it. So to be blunt – There is a time to lock the door. There is a time to barricade the door. And because of the world that we live in, there is a time to kick down the door of the evil doer. I do believe in self-defense, I do appreciate “just war” theory, and I support the troops. But there is also a time to turn the other cheek, there is a time where “just-war” theory must be tempered and I support the peacemakers. Many things are situational, the world is gray in some parts, and life is lived on the slippery slope.

That said, Osama Bin Laden was evil. And I know we as Christians are accustomed and theologically correct in saying that we too are evil and depraved, there are different kinds of consequences for different kinds of evil. Society has always understood this and that’s why we are not sent to the electric chair for speeding. We do need to recognize that there are thousands if not millions of people who hate us (and others) so much that they would kill you (again, and others) if they had the chance. They would kill you even if it meant they too would be dead. We call them suicide bombers, they call themselves the” righteous”. It’s good to remember the context.

People will be quick to say that treating OBL will only empower our enemies and reinforce their hatred towards us. That may be true. Some have said that we should have arrested him and brought him to trial – that may be true as well (as in it may be “more moral” but I am wrestling with that one). People have said that we need to be careful of the slippery slope – that’s true too. But in my opinion, all of these excellent thoughts only point to how difficult the question is, how complicated the world is, and among many things, the need for humility and prayer before a loving and just God. And it’s good if we pray and dialogue in community so thanks for reading.

How does a Christian respond? Some have responded by sharing the faith and hope of Jesus Christ with them. That is beautiful. Some of have responded by suggesting the entire Middle East be bombed – that is regrettable and frankly, embarrassing. It’s not just middle ground that is needed, but goodness tempered with justice anchored by love would be a helpful start.

This post has gotten too long so I am breaking it down. I’ll be continuing soon with question “What Does it Mean to Love Our Enemies?” In the meantime, feel free to dialogue here.

Reflecting on the Death of Osama Bin Laden – Part 2 – Seeking a Christian Response

What is a Christian response to the killing of Osama Bin Laden? I’ve been trying to process this myself and I know I am not alone. If you are like me, you have been all over Facebook (and Twitter) and have “Liked” certain updates and posts, rolled your eyes at some and maybe even thought, “Wow, this person is one of my friends? How do I “unfriend” someone here?” And it’s good if we realize that sometimes people are thinking that about you (and me).

Years ago as I was beginning my experience in social media, it was helpful to understand that not only should I expect great diversity among my Facebook friends, it was good. I’ll admit, having an appreciation for the concept of plurality made this easier for me than say, more “black/white” type of thinkers but I say this because I have heard a few people get really frustrated about the different reactions and I’d like to politely mention that simply, you shouldn’t. You cannot control other people’s thoughts and actions but you ought to express yourself, as politely as you can (maybe even start a blog) and contribute to the conversation.

Now, let me contradict myself. Though I didn’t mind the diversity of Facebook/Twitter statuses, I was thrown off by what I would describe – the jubilation of the killing of Osama. Now, can I also admit that I was also caught off-guard by the showings and demonstrations of mercy? I do not want to question anyone’s sincerity but only narrate my thoughts here. For some, I believed they were simply very godly and loving people and showing mercy was a reflection of their broken and generous hearts. For others (and not anyone specifically really, these are all broad strokes here), I wondered if it was easier to show mercy because perhaps they did not have as much invested in the killing of OBL.

I was moved by the scene of the NY Fire Fighters sitting outside their station Sunday night. I was appalled by the interview that I saw of college students from Pennsylvania who drove 2 hours, got drunk and partied like it was New Year’s. I understood the excitement shown by our troops (and their families) upon hearing the news but I am still slow to understand the partiers outside the White House or scenes like this one. And though I was initially caught off-guard upon hearing the chants of U-S-A at the Mets-Phillies game, what does a mass of 45000-50000 at a baseball game do upon hearing the news of the killing of the nation’s most wanted terrorist? Of course, in my pastor-fantasy world, I would have liked them to stop and pray and invite me to give a sermon from the pitcher’s mound, but even I will admit that what happened seemed like an honest, appropriate and natural response.  Now I’d like to say that regardless of what our initial response was, we are still responding in some way.  So, let us respond well and I am processing what does a Christian response look like?

Now I despise OBL’s actions and the darkness in his soul too (and he did have a very dark and evil soul) and I realize that some have reason to loathe him more than me (and my prayers are with you). I do not often mention it but as a family we had an aunt and a cousin in Tower 1 that September day and we thank the Lord over and over that they were able to get out safely and are with us today. And though we don’t often talk about it, I know I am not the only one who thinks in the worst-case scenarios. So when I think of that day, in addition to the countless other stories we are connected to, I still have strong feelings towards OBL and those that are similar to him. I would also add that I have a strong despisement towards people like Joseph Kony (Leader of the LRA), and in general, human traffickers, exploiters, and other murderers too.

I am reminded by what I heard in this last week’s sermon. Our pastor told a story of an editorial that appeared in a newspaper years ago. G.K. Chesterton wrote in, “In response to what is wrong with world today, sir, I have an answer: I am.”

Now I will not equate myself to OBL in the sense that anything I have done warrants the efforts of two highly trained SEAL teams to hunt me down in Pakistan but sadly, I can identify with what the Chesteron is saying. And so in this post, I think part of the Christian response of the killing of OBL is coming to the realization that we are all deeply flawed and have contributed to the pain of the world. It’s in acknowledging this that we can see the difference and the importance of a Christian response.

As always feel free to push back, comment, or passionately (but politely) express yourself.

Reflecting on the Death of Osama Bin Laden – Part 1 – My First UnEdited Thoughts

Like everyone, I’ve been asked and have been asking others on their thoughts about the Osama Bin Laden’s death. When I first found out, here were my first unedited  thoughts – 1. “Wow, I didn’t think we’d ever go through the trouble of actually finding him”. If I had to articulate my first non-verbal emotional thought, I think I would describe it as “relieved satisfaction”. 2. “Wow, no trial like Saddam, they just killed him.” (non-verbal emotion – the shock meeting instant rationalization) 3. “Wow, he’s dead.” (Reality settling in). In no way am I saying that these are the right thoughts, I’m still working on that, I’m only saying these were my first unedited honest thoughts.

Then I saw the tweets. They expressed a range of many emotions from somber and reflective to jubilation and giddiness. Then I went turned on the tv and saw people celebrating in New York and DC, my immediate thought was surprise. That’s a tricky word, let me unpack that. I’m not sure I felt that it was awful that people were celebrating in the streets but my first thought is that it was odd, especially since the college students were barely 10 years old on 9/11.  More on celebrating an enemy’s demise later this week.

Later that Sunday night, I had a couple other thoughts – “This must be help offer closure to the families who lost someone on 9-11 and the families of our service men and women who have been fighting the war on terror.” It didn’t take long for me to catch a news clip of a 9-11 father expressing that it was bittersweet and that it did offer closure. I had a prayerful moment there. I was also impressed with Obama, his speech and the execution of his plan.

I’m not sure I can high-five the killing of OBL but it would seem appropriate for the Navy Seal Team to do that. And I find a discrepancy there. And after a day’s worth of thought, it would seem to be more “moral” to bring him to trial. The idealistic part of me wonders how humbling that would have been for him. I also wondered if its “government’s” obligation to confront one with their moral trespasses. This thought was a luxury I had while sitting in my safe and comfortable church office. Then there’s what I would call the realistic part of me that thought, “I’m sorry but I’m not going to give sympathy to the killing of a terrorist responsible for the loss and ruining of thousands of lives.” Further, from watching Saddam’s trial, while I will never know what he truly believed in his heart, he came across to me as delusional to the end. Looking back on it, though there was a sense of justice that he was captured and brought to trial, I don’t think it would have bothered me had he been executed in the same manner of Osama. I say this because in some sense, when does a trial really begin? I think I could make the case that Osama’s trial began September 12, 2001 and the final result of the verdict on May 1, 2011.

This is among a few very difficult issues for me. Like many, I hate the idea of war and violence and much more prefer the path of non-violence. I like reading about pacifism but ultimately reject it in its purest form. I even struggle with the idea of whether you can actually be a pacifist and still live in America. If you are in my youth ministry or in my church, you know that I pray for our enemies, you also know I pray and fast for our troops. I can’t wait for our troops to return home, I pray for their re-entry and I cringe every time I think about it because the words of theologian Stanley Hauerwas haunt me, “The worst thing we do to our troops is not that we ask them to kill another man but after they do, we ask them to return to normal” (a paraphrase I heard from a lecture given).

While part of me does not want to give this terrorist the honor of having any more of my time, words or attention, there’s another part of me that finds the great importance of us as Christians to process this in community. In a time of prayer yesterday, it seemed clear that we should talk about this at youth group this week. (It will also be a “God at the Pub” discussion in a few weeks too).  I invite you to pray specifically for teenagers as they try to make sense of all of this as well.  These moments can have profound effect on the soul.

Over the years I’ve learned “everything spills over into everything”. And when we talk about things like patriotism, we are also talking about things like family, morality and faith. When we talk about peace, we are also talking about war, government and justice. And when we talk about all these things, we also talk about forgiveness, love and God. Based on my social media experience, more and more will regulate this conversation out of Twitter and Facebook and I think it’s going to take me a while to reflect. So I invite you to reflect with me here. What were your first unedited thoughts upon hearing that Osama Bin Laden has been killed?

Review of Naked Spirituality by Brian McLaren

I loved Brian McLaren’s latest book, Naked Spirituality – A Life With God in 12 Simple Words. It was sent to me by The Ooze Network as part of their Viral Bloggers program. I am not required to write a positive review so know that these are my honest thoughts.

In truth, the book caught me my surprise. There wasn’t a lot of attention surrounding it, not much praise, no criticisms, not even a “Farewell Brian McLaren” tweet. In looking back on it, I think we all know why. Which in some way, it made the reading experience a little more satisfying to me.

The point of the book is about getting naked – not physically, but spiritually. It’s about stripping away the symbols and status of public religion – the Sunday-dress version people often call “organized religion”. There is a number of audiences this book could work for. The obvious one is anyone interested in spiritual formation. Second is the over-churched or those that are very discontent with the idea of “organized religion”. In the intro, Brian says he is also writing to the “Spiritual but Religious”.  And I’ll agree, especially for the “intelligent unchurched and seeking”  (Check out his video below).

Good books begin well (they should end well too) and I appreciated his introduction of why he incorporates the term “naked”. Frankly, I wince any time the term is mentioned in public, especially in a Christian setting. But Brian echoes Jesus here and says when the Lord taught his disciples to pray, he said go in your closet, where you are naked, and when you pray be “naked” before the Lord. Naked = void of all pretense, absent of all self-righteousness, completely baring your pure, soul to your Maker. In this sense, not only is the imagery not awkward, but the idea of soul to soul with God is quite beautiful and appropriate for prayer..

I was fortunate enough to hear this material on one of our Biblical Seminary retreats last year. Speaking for so many of us, we loved it. His insights on spiritual formation are fantastic. Years of pastoral ministry, his more recent work in traveling and writing and his personal seeking of the Lord offers so much wisdom that it’s a joy to read and reflect upon. It was interesting to read some of the points and illustrations he used during our time together.

Most people know Brian as a postmodern type who is vague and objectively elusive but in this book, he is reflective and very transparent. In fact, I’m interested in seeing the feedback here. My hope is that some of his critics will be moved by his God-fearing heart.

Anyway, here’s a summary of what I liked:

Among the reasons I appreciate Brian is his humility. I’ve seen him speak a number of times and read his books – even when I disagree with his points, I always appreciate the way he intelligently articulates himself with such humility.

The “12 Words” are pretty solid (wasn’t sure I would but It resonated very much with me). I’m rarely satisfied with any book/subtitle that claims to have “10 Steps for Better-living” but this worked for me. What I really liked were the double chapters that looked at each word from different angles. This not allowed for shorter chapters but allowed the reader to really appreciate the two angles on the same word. The twelve words he uses are Here, Thanks, O, Sorry, Help, Please, When, No, Why, Behold, Yes and “…” (which is a cool idea).

He also divides the 12 words into the “4 Seasons of Life”. Thinking about these words with the backdrop of these seasons of life was an added feature as opposed to seeing the words “Part 2″.

His sources – Kempis, Rohr, Merton, Bruggemann, Lewis, Yancey. Need more of some, can’t have enough of others.

An excellent appendix too that includes a section on Group Practices, Body Prayers, Simple Prayers and Discussion Guide.

Appreciated his diverse inclusions from different religions but his central emphasis on Jesus. Brian is gifted at showing the reader God’s goodness found in not so obvious places. For those who appreciate the idea of natural law/grace, there’s some great anecdotes here.

For people who pray, this is a must read.

His reinterpretation of the Prayer of Jabez. Seriously, it’s about time someone wrote about this prayer that Bruce Wilkerson hijacked and made millions from.

I loved the emphasis on the Holy Spirit. He even articulates a great case for Pentecostalism. Now I’m not persuaded to be Pentecostal in the “traditional Pentecostal” sense but I did appreciate where he was coming from.

What I wasn’t sure about:
Brian always throws me a bit with his love for evolution. I’m all for micro-evolution and he always depicts God as the Creator and the Divine Hand behind it all but as an honest reader, I wonder if he credits too much to the theory of evolution (It’s still a theory, right?). Brian loves nature and I appreciate his insights but sometimes I find the evolution commercials to be distracting.

Only 12 words? I’m sure he had a list of 50 and many of these words were probably synonymous with each other. I would have been interested in seeing the words that didn’t make it – is there a B-sides project here?

My most critical point is I think he took it a little easy on “The Season of Spiritual Surviving” section. I found myself wondering if he was avoiding controversy or just a much godly person than me. Don’t get me wrong, it was honest, it was pastoral, it invoked hope, etc. but if I had to narrate my inner monologue, I think I was looking for some more anger and emptiness. I’m also a big Radiohead fan so maybe it’s unfair to project my presuppositions here.


For Gen-Xers who were moved by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, I think this book is perfect for you. It’s fresher. In comparison to Celebration of Discipline, one of the most influential books of my life, Naked Spirituality does an excellent job in reminding you that you are naked in your closet before the Lord. Your closet is still connecting to your home, your neighborhood, your world. You’re naked but in some sense, so is everyone else – they may just not realize that they are before God. This is my favorite feature of the book and I highly recommend it.