Reflections on Brokenness Post 3 – The Way We Talk and Think About Persecution

One of my favorite parts of my new position here at Grace Chapel is leading our Oasis class. It’s a class designed for small group leaders to help them prepare the studies they’ll be leading this week. Based on the Sunday morning message, it’s our hope to not only reinforce the sermon but to explore its context, interpretation and application collectively.

This week’s sermon was on discipleship (preached by Pastor of Community Care, Jim Ennis) and it chronicled Peter from when Jesus called him, to when he was rebuked to when he boldly preached the gospel in Acts. When we talk about faithful discipleship, hopefully, at some point, we end up talking about sacrifice. And when we talk about sacrifice, eventually we talk about persecution.

One of the questions of my study asked, “…what risks do present day Christians face in being identified as Christ-followers?” This question generated some discussion.

[Read more…]

Reflections on Brokenness Post 2 – “I’ve Forgotten 87% of the Statistics I’ve Heard and I Believe Very Little of the Remaining 13%”

Statistics. Has there have been a more manipulative and misunderstood tool than statistics? I am likely upsetting 79% of you math types and approximately 21% of your literature types are smiling. Likely 39% of you will not make it to the end of the post (and you should because it’s a decent point) (1% have decided to continue reading. Blessed are you).

Likely, you have heard that statistic that says, “67% of all statistics are made up.” I think I laugh at that 99% of the time.

[Read more…]

Reflections on Brokenness Post 1 – “A 12yr. Old & an 80yr. Old Take Communion”

Ever click through old pictures and experience both, horror and a sense of joy? The thoughts range from, “Oh that’s right, I used to think that was cool” to “I remember that day, one of my favorites” to “I wish I could go back and …”

I write that not after watching a nostalgic movie (like Top Gun) nor after listening to something like Guns & Rose’s “November Rain” (has there ever been a Lenten reflection to mention G&R?) but after being at our Ash Wednesday service. A boy, probably about 12 said he was taking communion for the first time as that day, he decided to become a Christian.  I was genuinely excited for him and escorted him to the front and shared this with the elder serving communion who graciously instructed him how to partake before saying, “This is the Body of Christ, broken for you …”

I remember the first time I took communion. My mom slapped my hand as I grabbed a handful of crackers from the plate (I was 6 [Read more…]

To Share or Not Share Our Lenten Vows – I’m Sharing Mine

During the announcements this past Sunday, I invited everyone to take part in our Ash Wednesday Service. I briefly shared that if you have ever had the experience that I had of sitting in a church sanctuary Easter Sunday with the realization that you were not ready to celebrate the glory of the Resurrection, I encourage you to participate this Lent with us. It prepares our hearts, enriches our lives and amplifies our worship to our Lord.

So off and on for the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do and not do for Lent. In some sense, each year gets tougher, but each year offers clarity as well so there’s a good bit of joy in thinking about this.

[Read more…]

My Review of Insurrection by Peter Rollins – Part 1

I was sent this book as part of the Speakeasy On Tap Blogger Program. As always I am not required to give a positive review, only an honest one. I also agreed to give a timely review but I failed at that. I’m about a month overdue. Likely no one will notice but the truth is I really wanted to write the right words for this.

First the presuppositions.
I am an admirer of Pete Rollins.
A few years ago, good friend, Thomas Turner of the great blog Everyday Liturgy and I organized an event in Philly that featured Pete (and John Franke). We got to spend some time with Pete and I appreciated his heart. (Didn’t really expect much because he’s a philosopher. Add to that, he’s Irish. An Irish philosopher with a good heart? Let the paradoxes begin!)
Anyway, he was still living in Ireland then and was planning on moving to the States. Now that he has, I’ve been fortunate enough to see him a number of times. Last year I bumped into him in a coffee shop and asked him about his next project. He said this next book may upset some people, among a number of things.

I thought he was exaggerating but here I am, a bit messed up. I’ll get to that in a minute.

[Read more…]

Celebritism Post 4: What We Are Reminded Of Everytime a Celebrity Passes Away

I’ve been thinking about the tragic and untimely death of Whitney Houston and how it connects to these posts on celebritism. The first thought that comes to me is that in today’s media-driven, celebrity-preoccupied culture, celebrity deaths receive extraordinary attention.

In some ways, it may seem like an odd thing to be saddened of a death of someone that doesn’t know of your existence. In some ways, it’s still very normal. People have always mourned the death of people they don’t know. The loss of life is sad on any level and it’s a good thing because the opposite, apathy, seems like an inhumane response.

I remember hearing the story of one of my grandmothers crying when she heard the news that John F Kennedy Jr. was [Read more…]

Celebritism Post 3: What All the Different Types of Celebrities Reveal About Us

I am continuing in my series of exploring celebritism. I had a handful of posts that I weeded out because they carried me away from my original point so I think I’ve got reset again. I’ll post about the tragic and untimely death of Whitney Houston another time as it sadly points to much of what I am saying.

In trying to outline this series of posts, I found the number of people that we regard as celebrities in some way to be incredible and a bit alarming. (In my first post on this, I simply defined a celebrity as a famous, or well known person). While I too have an aversion to stereotyping, I eventually succumbed to the need for it here – hope you’ll see why by the end.

Too Many Different Types of Celebrities:

1. “The Classic Celebrity” – The A-listers of A-listers. They have been talked or will be talked about for decades. Hollywood types like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie. Music types like Bono, Lady Gaga, and Jay-Z. Athletes like Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, and Tom Brady. There is always a handful of modeling celebrities in this grouping, television icons like Dick Clark and a handful of what we could call American royalties like former Presidents. They were the Mickey Mantles and the Marilyn Monroes, the James Deans and the JFK’s.

2. “The Entertainment Celebrity” – Jerry Seinfeld, Betty White, Jake Gyllenhall. All the “It” people whose faces are pictured outside theaters, who critics promise us played an “unforgettable performance”. The really good ones create a connection with us through our screens. It’s interesting how we begin to identify them as “friends” over the years. It’s worth noting that according to the tabloid system, you can up your celebrtism by marrying another celebrity.

3. “The Industry Celebrity” – They “entertain” in a different way – their innovation changed our lives. Steve Jobs was one, Bill Gates is and now people like Mark Zuckerberg fit in this group. People talk about them in a way similar to the way I imagine they did about Edison, Rockefeller and Carnegie.

4. “The Temporary Celebrity” – Katy Perry and Justin Bieber. I know it seems that they will never go away but they are the Alanis Morissette’s and Kid Rock’s of today.

5. “The Villain Celebrity” – Kim Kardashian, LeBron James, Paris Hilton and now Casey Anthony and Jerry Sandusky. Previous villains included the controversial Madonna who was loved again after releasing successful hit albums. Sinead O’Conner, Marilyn Manson and OJ Simpson have fallen off the map into general indifference in perhaps what’s called the “Forgotten Celebrity”.

6. “The Fall from Grace Celebrity” – Tiger Woods, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Lindsay Lohan (as posted about earlier). Adored until we hear the words, “Breaking News, reports have been released that …”

7. “The Christian Celebrity” – Being a pastor, I felt the need to include this as every sector/profession of life has theirs. Depending on your corner of the church, these names vary. In my corner, these names are Billy Graham, Tim Keller, Rob Bell, and John Piper. All are white men and three of the four are mid-age to older. Historically, there was really one name you knew, it was the Pope and interestingly enough, his name was always changed. That was until the reformers arrived on the scene and as they had hoped, now preacher’s names are hanging above the stage where the cross of Christ traditionally hung. Ok, that was certainly not their intention, I digress.  But for better or worse, we do need to realize that there are celebrities in the Church.

What This Tells Us
In these categories there are overlaps, there is an A-List, B-List and countless other sub-categories including the wanna-be’s, has-been’s and never will-be’s. They line up at auditions, veg out in front of televisions and never take risks. We could go on here but I have three points to this exercise:

One, we clearly have no shortage of celebrities – and among the many things it reveals, is our need of consumption. And if money can be made from this product, chances are there will be a celebrity to endorse and sell it to us. As mentioned in my first post, the celebrity will always be with us.

Two, it also reveals our apparent need to objectify people. They may be famous but they only matter to us if we like what they do. Even worse, when they no longer interest us, we discard them and when we do, we are in effect saying, people are disposable.

I liken this to us each having a “gladiator” arena. Throughout our week, people are collected for our enjoyment, their performances analyzed, and our pleasure is tabulated by our response at the box-office, the sports arena, how we purchase the products they endorse and how many people “tuned in”. There are now shows that demonstrate how all this done, complete with auditions, judges and “text in your vote”.

When we no longer have any use for them, we give the “thumbs down” sign and whether we look or not, they are quickly removed from our midst.

Third, in light of all of this, we need to be aware how we endorse and help create this system. Know that I am not saying to the fellow Christian that we need to boycott the entertainment industry or culture in general (I find that way of thinking to be unhelpful). Know that I am not saying that we need to save, rescue, or destroy the celebrity system any more than our many other dysfunctional “systems” we have all taken part in creating (political, health, class-system, etc.). What we as believers should already be doing is proclaiming and bringing the redemption demonstrated to us through the person and work of Jesus in all that we say and do.

So, regarding celebritism, what I am saying is that people are people, created in the image of God and deserve that dignity regardless of what our media or even our friends say about them. In doing so, the “celebrity” de-celebritiizes, becomes a normal person, becomes like you and me. Even more importantly, understanding this may allow us to see people the way God sees them.

Thoughts, comments, push backs, feel free …

Six Word Stories, Jerusalem Falls and Moments of Personal Failure – Blogging Through Our Sermon Series

During the introduction, Pastor Bryan told this story.  Legend has it that Ernest Hemmingway was having dinner with his writer friends and he told them he could write a story in only six words. They bet him he couldn’t so he took out a napkin and wrote these words: For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.

A powerful and sad story invoking many mental pictures and conjuring numerous thoughts.

More of these stories can be found at and examples include:
Missed my plane caught her eye.
Nerdy kid, rocket launcher, bully gone.

As Bryan, said, it only takes a a handful of words to make us laugh or break our hearts.

This sermon focused on the fall of Jerusalem and their six word story was: Covenant made, Covenant Broken Disaster Falls. Judah had already fallen to the Assyrians in 609BC but Jerusalem hung in there. In just 5 years, the Babylonian empire conquered the entire region, the Assyrians, took over Judah and the Egyptians retreated back West.

Jerusalem tried to survive the but was finally conquered in 587BC by King Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Then the exile would begin. More on the exile next time but that was the sermon that I was privileged to give the following week.

I re-listened to this message the other day (a semi-consistent habit that I have made a difference in a few ways, you can listen here) and it made me reflect on the fall of Jerusalem. Back in college, I had the opportunity to visit the holy city (and look forward to one day going again). One of the consistent themes throughout the tour was when the guide would say, “This is where (insert significant landmark here) is believed to be but of course, underneath all of this in one of the older layers of the city.” Jerusalem had been destroyed and rebuilt so many times that so many of the landmarks of the First Century are lost below. That’s why archaeologist dig.

It made me wonder of what I have seen fall over the years. Naturally, I thought of 9-11, and then remembered quickly that thankfully, the entire city had not fallen which magnified the idea that the entire city of Jerusalem had fallen. I have seen so many “natural disaster and alien invasion” type movies where cities and masses of people have been annihilated but I was really struck by the tragedy of what happened in 587BC.

As I thought a little bit more, I thought of other types of “falls” – like the Fall of the Berlin Wall was a great moment for us all. I thought of some trivial types of falls like when a sports team fails in spectacular fashion in the midst of high expectations. I thought of how marriages and relationships and people “fall”. I reflected on my own failures and while I don’t have anything epic enough to impress you with here, I do remember the pain of these times.

It’s a pastoral instinct to finish a sermon, study, blog post on some type of a higher note. But since it’s a sermon journey, I think it’s good to linger here in the ashes a little longer. Maybe there is something for you to reflect on. I’ll just end with a six word transitional story:

Hope Looks Lost … To Be Continued

Does Piper’s “Masculine Christianity” Undermine Women, Men and the Scriptures?

Rachel Held Evans (a blog that many of you would love) opened with this on a post entitled, “John Piper wants a Masculine Christianity. What do you think?”:
On Tuesday, at the annual Desiring God pastors conference, popular evangelical pastor John Piper spoke on the importance of maintaining what he calls a “masculine Christianity,” arguing that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.” … She directed us to see more of his comments here.

Although I joke a good bit about John Piper and have criticized some of his blog posts and tweets in the past (the obvious ones, like his explanation of why the bridge that tragically collapsed in Minneapolis and the “Farewell Rob Bell” tweet), he still holds a special place for me. In the mid 90’s, his books were helpfu, kinda like Dave Matthews Band. Sure, I don’t listen much to DMB anymore but he’s still part of my life soundtrack.

I’ve changed a bit over the years but Dr. Piper and I still have some similarities:
Though I’m not a hyper-Calvinist, I do believe in God’s sovereignty.
Though I’m not Baptist, I think baptism is an essential sacrament and I love John the Baptist.
Though I’m not a complementarian, I am happily married to a woman (and I think she is happily married to me ;)
Though I’m not from Minnesota, I think their accent is cool “Minnasoooda” – Beautiful.
So as you can see, we have a great deal in common.

Despite all our seemingly identical views, Piper’s complementarianism has always thrown me. One thing is to have a conviction about it but I’ve always been surprised by the enormous amount of effort that he and his friends have placed in trying to “put women in their place.” They may not be “saying” that but that’s what I’m “hearing.” That’s what struck me regarding Rachel’s post – why is he still talking about this? And what more must a woman do to be treated respectfully in the Church today?

The statements that Piper is making causes great concern for me because in my estimation, he is undermining three important aspects:
1. Clearly he is undermining women. You can spin it however you want (“This benefits women”, “This is divinely ordained”), complementarianism is undermining.
2. But he’s also undermining men. Many of them having been born from women, wed to them and countless others know a woman, maybe even two ;) Seriously it undermines men because the distance created in these battles only creates more lonely men. This is completely antithetical to Genesis 2:18 (“It’s not good for man to be alone …”)
3. It undermines the Scriptures in their original context. Allow me to repeat and clarify – the original Scriptures in their original context, not the English translations being read and understood in our modern day western contexts. But I will be the first to say that we all contextualize (whether we realize it or not).

Rachel asked for men to post about the female imagery of God in the Bible. I rarely respond to these types of posts but this conversation keeps coming up online and offline so here I am. So, the first that came to my mind is the imagery of a nursing mother describing the tenderness of God in Psalm131:2 – “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.” If I were to contextualize it to a young father such as myself, I suppose I could alter it to, “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child that I was able to quiet by playing the Thomas the Tank Engine dvd.” You think that’s odd? Picturing a masculine God nursing is quite disturbing, right?

The second is Isaiah 42:14, ” For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” God going through laboring does not sound very masculine. Perhaps we could change it to “For a long time I have kept the safety switch on my power, I have determined to hold my ground, but now I will cry out like a dragon. I will breathe fire and roar!” Not only does my translation remove this female imagery but I’ve also made it a little more Hollywood friendly. Your welcome.

I imagine I was standing outside the Church, it’s very realistic that I would see this as a crusade against women. Had it none been for my evangelical background and a life-long history of dealing with literalists, I would be utterly confused. But what may also be confusing is that although we don’t fight crusades anymore with violent swords, today we use rhetoric, which can be seen as a different type of attack. Is it possible that so many men respond to Piper’s words in fear of being seen as less manly if they don’t? It reminds me of the bullying tactics we’ve all experienced in our childhood and adolescents.

A few years ago, I was in a context where I asked fellow ministry leader types (mostly men with a few women in attendance) if anyone actually made decisions in their marriage without consulting their spouse. I’ve been married for 12 years and I realize that’s not a long time but I have never uttered the words, “God has ordained me as the man of the house, I make the decisions, and I have decided …..” I asked if anyone else had.

No one said they did and no offered or suggested that my question was loaded and offered an alternative. The possibility remains that everyone was intimidated by my bullying. It’s a reality that every 5’7″ pastor thinks of every time he hops out of his mini-van. But I remember in that moment thinking, “When it comes down to it, I don’t know any real complementarians personally.” They say they are and it may because they want to identify themselves with a position they believe is more Biblical or whatever. I see chauvinism, I see unhealthy dynamics and healthy dynamics but I just don’t see complementarians function the way they say they do.

Perhaps when Dr. Piper prays, he imagines a more masculine God, I’m ok with that – that’s his conviction, his prayer, his mind’s eye. If I am being honest, as much as I try to see God as Spirit, I probably do invoke a masculine presence as well. In meditating about this earlier, I probably do picture God to be more olive-skinned. Is it because Jesus is Jewish? Is it because I’m Egyptian? Why do I picture God speaking in English?

When the day comes to meet God, I will not be disappointed if God has Asian, Hispanic or Anglo features. The imagery that I/we use to describe God is only that – descriptive language. Descriptive language is limited and if you think about it, it can only aid the soul so much.

As has been said numerous times, the Scriptures use masculine language because it was a reflection of the ancient culture. It’s very similar to why God uses our languages to speak to us as opposed to forcing us to learn some theological language. Forget circumcision and baptism, you want an easy way to identify the chosen, make them learn the divine tongue. If you can get past my sarcasm, I think there’s a point worth considering.

While I too would like to see more men in our churches today, I don’t think complementarianism has much to offer in aiding that. Thus, I don’t get too excited when I hear people complain about the “feminization” of the church. Those statements tend to sound like campaign slogans to me. Seems to me you take the missing desire of the church and create the anthem of your choosing. Want more traditional music? Here you go – “The Church today has lost one of its true God-given treasures, its history, it’s rich tradition, it’s hymns!.” Now I think that sentence is true to some extent. But so is this one: Want more progressive music? – “The church today has lost its pioneering spirit. The Church used to champion the arts, now we offer cheap imitations while being stuck in the past.” I find there is truth to that statement as well.

Is it possible that part of the weakness of today’s church is that it’s being operated as a collection of single dads running things? Now I liked My Two Dads and “Uncle Jesse” in Full House as much as the next person, I just don’t think they are an adequate model for leading the church. Perhaps more on that topic another time but this is very much part of the conversation.

Among my favorite aspects of the Scriptures is that despite a male-dominated middle eastern culture, the role and value of women have always been ahead of their time culturally in the Bible. Why do some in evangelicalism want to oppose that? There are so many issues obviously linked to this (women in ministry, just how much leadership, “The head/the source debate”, Paul’s understanding, etc. I’m including a 5 minute NT Wright clip below. I’d also like to recommend Scot McKnight’s ebook Junia is Not Alone. For less than a latte, you can have a better understanding of the New Testament’s teaching on women. That’s incredible for $3.)

I close with this question. Bob Dylan asks in his classic song, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?” If I may apply that sentiment to my post here, “How many must a woman walk before we can celebrate her in the way God intended?” Let us examine our hearts and our theology, do our positions undermine women, men and the Scriptures?

A Pre-Super Bowl Reflection – Things For my Brothers and Sisters to Keep in Mind While Watching

Well of course, being a Giants fan living in New England as the two teams play, this is on my mind. Factor in my role at the Sunday night evening service brings another thought or two. (“Did God say we had to worship every Sunday?” Do we not cancel for exceptions like inclimate weather, this seems like an another example ;)

The Super Bowl is interesting on so many levels. It’s an invented holiday, meaning at some point, American society had to be convinced that they needed to celebrate this day, even if you had no interest in the NFL. From the two week build-up, to the commercials, the halftime show, to the actual game itself, it’s hard to deny it “holiday” status. In fact, second to Thanksgiving, it’s the highest holiday of food consumption of the year – 30 million pounds of food will be consumed!

So a few words of reminder to my Christian brothers and sisters regardless of which team you are cheering for.

1. We all know that it’s just a game but it’s a really, really fun one so let’s be kind and generous with each other at our parties, on Facebook and on the Twitterverse.

For non-football fans, it would be helpful if you saw this similar to a conclusion of a very long movie. Many of us football fans have watched all season to see the conclusion. The conclusion is usually only celebrated by a few of us but most of us not only like closure but the end of this season will mean a new season can begin. And as we learn every season, few things went the way we thought they would. This unpredictability is part of why football is so exciting.

2. Win or lose, it doesn’t actually involve your identity. True fans like to think it does but it really doesn’t.

Some may tell you that I’m not a true sports fan because I do not actually go into depression when my team loses. Further, in real life, I don’t actually hate the players of my rival teams. This is all just fun and the added language of “Brady sucks” is in the tone of brotherly love, not actually anything against the guy. The fact that he’s good is what adds the fun.

My favorite part of sports rivalries is that you get to argue about things that don’t actually matter. It’s not like arguing politics, theology, global issues or things involving our loved ones. Again, this is supposed to be fun.

Of course it all depends on what happens in the game but in short, if the Patriots win, I’ll be bummed for a little bit. I’ll try to be a good sport when the Pats fans mock me and I’ll avoid biting their fingers when they stick it in my face (I guess that came to mind because I have a 2 and 3 yr. old in the house but I digress).

If we win, I’ll be happy and excited but a short while later, I’ll be back in the real world. I’ll try to be a good sport and not mock the Pats fans and I’ll avoid sticking my finger in their face, while shouting “Eli the Elite!”

But win or lose, let’s not allow either experience to get the best of us.

3. For the Christian, in the big picture, win or lose, it’s Sunday. Its the day where the Church gathers together and says, “Christ is Risen … He’s risen indeed.” Let’s never forget this.

Best of luck to both teams – see you around.