Reflecting on Revelation – Blogging Through Our Sermon Series

When I think of the book of Revelation, I generally think two things. The movie, A Thief in the Night (I really should consider therapy) and the promise of God’s Kingdom being ultimately revealed regardless of what happens (or doesn’t happen) in this world. I know it’s completely horrific that I should include these two together and if I believed that God was offended buy such trivialities, I would certainly confess but part of my point is mentioning the absurdity.

First a word on “A Thief In the Night.” Don’t watch it unless you simply like weird horror movies. Don’t show it to your [Read more…]

It’s Time for Believers to Talk Graciously About Abortion Again #QDC

There have been a number of Q Talks that stood out to me and this is among them. Part of it is because we need to talk more about the abortion issue but we need to do it with more grace and compassion. Given the sensitivity of the conversation, I’ve been waiting to re-listen to the talk and it has recently become available on Q Premiere. (You can subscribe here and please know that I promoting this completely out of my own volition. I am receiving no compensation or courtesy membership. My gain is participating and the sharing of the conversation).

This panel was moderated by Rebekah Lyons. The panelists include Jenell Paris, professor of anthropology at Messiah College in Grantham, PA; Sarah Brown, CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy; Angie Weszely, President of Caris, a faith-based nonprofit providing support to all women facing unplanned pregnancies; and Johnny Carr, National Director of Church Partnerships for Bethany Christian Services, America’s largest adoption agency (panel description taken from the Q site)

So the first thing that seems obvious to ask is why are some of us still not ready to talk about abortion? It needs to be said that there is a sizable evangelical demographic that is still not ready to talk about it. Of course the abortion issue has never gone away but many cannot bear the thought of discussing it again which begs the question why.

For some of us, we were brought up in “culture war” settings where abortion was the classic example of evil and those that performed them or had one were cast as the worst type of human. Some of us are still drained and disillusioned from this part of the culture war and cannot bare to bring it back up again. I understand that some people will not find that acceptable but among the lessons that I take is the “culture war” does too much damage to too many people (including our “own”).

Further, even if we/they have never actually stood in protest at an abortion clinic, having a pro-life conviction cast a great deal of tension with those that were pro-choice. And many of those that have pro-choice stances hate abortion as much as we do, but they are convinced that the choice must be honored. For me, these include some dear people whom I regard as good friends. We may disagree but it makes less sense to me/us to break fellowship.

So here’s the interesting part. It turns out that despite a sizable demographic not talking about it, teen pregnancy has gone down, the number of teen abortions has gone down and there is always a story of an abortion clinic that has had to close its doors so why bring it up now? This has also resulted in the number of adoptions having gone up. In light of that, it’s tempting to think that if we wait a few more years in complete silence, the whole issue might all go away.

That’s the interesting part. The crazy part is the beginning of the bestseller Freakonomics where there is a connection between the reduction in crime in major cities like New York and the increase in abortions among particular demographics that are believed to would have contributed to the crime rate. It’s horrifying and offensive while being statistically staggering.

Sitting in silence is not going to do any long term good and statistics implying the social benefits of infanticide is not going to help either. It’s time for Christians to talk graciously about reducing abortion.

The first thing that some of my conservative brothers and sisters will notice about that last sentence is why I chose to use “reducing abortion” language than say, overturning Roe v. Wade. My answer is threefold: First using overturning Roe v. Wade rhetoric is a hyper-politically charged conversation, therefore polarizing, therefore not helpful for legitimate conversation.
Two, the reducing language not only avoids villiianzing others but it suggests that people sincerely want to help others.
Three, just about everyone publicly agrees that we need to reduce the number of abortions – therefore we have common ground.

During the panel discussion, Sarah Brown pointed out that of the 1.2 million abortions per year, 85% are by unmarried women and fewer than 20% are by teens. Majority of women who have unplanned/unintended pregnancies and having abortions are unmarried twenty-somethings. Among them are women with stable careers.

Three-fourths of evangelicals have admitted they have had pre-marital sex so as others have pointed out, the message of abstinence has not exactly been well-received. Whether certain people care to admit or not, among the key reasons the teen pregnancy rate has gone down is because of the increased use of contraceptions. Which brought up the need for discussing the use of contraception in churches.

I’ll admit, I don’t really hear myself saying from the pulpit, “Those women who do not wish to get pregnant, you are to be abstinent and if you can’t, use contraception …” For one, when I preach, I don’t preach like that (not intended to sound condescending to those that do). Further, I am not a weekly preacher so most of my ministry happens away from the pulpit. But I am not uncomfortable talking about the use of contraceptives. Truth is, I have in specific instances for years because frankly, you don’t have to wait for the Pew Forum to release the research saying that 3/4s of evangelicals are having pre-marital sex to figure out what’s going on.

And while I do I try to avoid sending conflicting messages, these messages are contextual. If you really listen to what some people are saying whether in your office or your small group or wherever people are choosing to be vulnerable, you might understand what I’m saying here. My point for saying all this here is – let’s be faithful with these opportunities to help reduce the number of abortions.

Which brought up a major theme in the panel discussion. Those in the church need to better express “grace theology” when it comes to women and unplanned pregnancies (and to the men who don’t cut and run). I will say this doesn’t feel as big of an issue in the churches that I’ve been a part of but sadly, I have heard too many horror stories of women feeling shamed in some way. The flip side though is I don’t know how many people never came to the churches I was a part of because of what attitudes and judgements they thought may have been lurking inside. We need to make sure that the church is a place of many things including belonging, grace, and unconditional love.

This is where the graciousness conversation comes in. In my scope I do see a number of churches (and Christians in general) getting better at encouraging each other to adopt, foster and support children. Some are also getting better at reaching out to single moms and families whose financial circumstances make it almost impossible to survive. Some pulpits have eliminated culture war language and a spirit of hospitality is emerging but not only is there so much work to be done, very few actually regard the Church as a place of welcome.

For serious Christians, that needs to change. Much of the work to be done begins in conversation as it is one of the elements that changes culture. We need to invite those that have stopped talking about this issue back into the conversation and foster a gracious discussion on such a crucial issue. Thoughts, concerns, push-backs, feel free to comment. Also, if you share some similar feelings here, please share – the more people that talk about worthy things, the better.

Here are a couple other posts on QDC  – thanks for reading.

Thinking About Short Terms Missions Again

On Sunday, I prayed with one of our mission teams that is serving locally in Cambridge this week. We have a number of teams traveling throughout the summer to different places, doing different things and of course, it involves a number of different type of people. Some are mission trip veterans, some are first-timers, young professionals, young parents, empty-nesters, middle/high school students and many others. I’m a believer of short term missions but every year I am part of conversations that inquire are these trips worth it?

First, I think that’s an important question (that’s why I want to blog about it). It’s part of good stewardship to evaluate what we’re doing as individuals and as a faith community.
Second, I think this question actually needs to be answered because among other reasons, we need to bridge the gap between those who are critical of these trips and those that are supportive. It makes for a stronger mission and a stronger church.
Third, the critique of these trips have led to better trips. And so these conversations bear good fruit.

Last year, I asked this question and tried to answer the financial practicality of it “Wouldn’t it be better to just take that [Read more…]

Why I Stopped Hating on Lebron and Why I’m Happy For Him

I haven’t really cared about the NBA since Michael Jordan shoved Bryon Russell out of the way and sank the game winner sinking the Utah Jazz and picking up his six ring. Of the big three sports, the NBA is the hardest for me to get into and in the beginning of this season, I was all for the Lockout because it was one less thing to keep up with.

Over the years, I’ve tried not to hate on anyone too much but I’ve made by share of Kobe, Shaq, and Lebron jokes. I have never liked any player that was hailed as the “next Jordan”. And I didn’t like Shaq in the beginning because I just thought he was a lame. Exhibits A & B: Shaq-fu and Kazaam (though I never saw them, I was horrified by the trailers and that was enough).

A few years ago, I wondered why I took so much delight when Kobe lost or in the humiliations of “King James” or in Shaq’s inability to make a free throw (seriously, I loved that he couldn’t make a free-throw). Initially, I think I was [Read more…]

Reflecting on This Year’s Senior Sneak With the Class of 2012

Well, I’m probably writing this post too soon but I’m ok with that.

I’ll play it off as best I can but I was really excited when it was decided that the Sr. High graduates from my previous church were coming to Boston for their “Senior Sneak.” For those that don’t know, the “Senior Sneak” is this elaborate celebration for the graduating class of senior highers and it has become a long tradition at the Montvale Church started by … well we don’t know its exact origins but it could have been King David (because he liked to party).

The reasoning is multi-fold, one, we’re sorry for all the generic soda and lame snacks we’ve given them over the years, [Read more…]

Remembering How I First Startling Liking Radiohead While Seeing Them in Concert

In some circles, a pastor liking Radiohead is a bit cliche. And in some others, it’s quite bizarre. Depending on where I am, I get one of two looks: One that says, “Of course you do and you probably use a Mac and …” The second look politely says, “Really? I thought you said you were a minister of some sort.”

I’ll admit, I didn’t get the brilliance of Radiohead until the late 90’s. After having my fill of Pablo Honey’s radio hit “Creep”, the song “Hey Jealousy” would usually follow and to be brutally honest, I kinda lumped them both together back then. A few years later, my friend Brian announced that Radiohead was the “best band alive today” and handed me a couple of burned cd’s.

Two things about my friend: One, he’s brilliant but changes his mind quite frequently and two, he exaggerates worse [Read more…]

Reflecting on Snake Handling & Tests of Faith


By now you may have heard of Mack Wolford, the snake-handling preacher who was killed by a bite of yellow timber rattlesnake. If you read past the headline, you may have experienced the same type of shock that I did upon seeing that his father died the same way back in 1984. If you thought about it afterwards, you may have wondered, what in the world is wrong with these people? And if you are spiteful like me, you might have wondered how can we convince Fred Phelps to take up snake-handling ;)

I want to say a few things here. One especially for those that may across as and are looking from outside the Church – snake-handling is not a normal practice for 99.9999% of Christians. I’m not kidding and I probably don’t have enough nines to the right of the decimal.

Now I know that these news articles mention that this is a 100 year old tradition in places like Tennessee. Such sentences hold no credibility to most of us in light of a 2000 year old history of a the Global Church. In the 5 minutes that I spent Googling, I saw articles implying there are techniques to charm the snakes. I’m sure if I were to spend an hour online, I’d find articles implying that the handlers have been accused of subduing the snakes and/or other measures of protection. While this may not have been true of Mack Wolford, we shouldn’t be what else would be uncovered from this bizarre and quite rare sub-culture.

Second, in thinking about this, I am so saddened for the Wolford family. Losing two men like this is tragic and I can only imagine what’s been going through their minds and hearts this week. So many tragedies are unavoidable and mysterious, and this is not the case here. This is another example of bad theology causing harm and this is regrettable.

Third, I want to say that the idea of snake-handling being a test of faith is a very unBiblical idea. Of course, the few proponents of snake-handling insist they are being obedient to Scripture passages like like Mark 16:17-18. I would echo the many that would state their interpretations is flawed. Further, the passage in question is extremely complicated by the fact that this is not part of the original Gospel of Mark but appears to have been inserted later. (It is generally believed that the original conclusion was lost or destroyed in a fire perhaps and subsequent copies never had the original conclusion).

At the same time I wonder why they are not consistent with their interpretation and venture out of the world of snake-handling and try some of the other faith-led activities that we have in Scripture like walking on water (Mark 6:49) or commanding mountains to jump into the sea (Mark 11:23)? Why not become a storm chaser that silents the storms (Mark 4:35-40) and still the tornadoes (that would be helpful in the Mid West right? Further, please note that all of these passages are far the Gospel of Mark too. Anyway, I’m saying these “tests of faith” would be seriously impressive and consistent with their faulty literal hermeneutic.

Of course, I interpret a passages like to be a hyperbole. And I realize that I may being a little hard but today I just see this as complete nonsense and I’m bothered that people are losing their lives over very bad theology.

But I offer the same reminder others have mentioned not to test God (which works loosely in the big picture, but an often over-used and misinterpreted passage. Because not everything is actually a test from God).

Concerning a different interpretation, a better interoperation of snake-bites, mountains, storms, etc. is this:  Jesus is articulating the idea that God is greater than anything  in/of this world and because of our faith in him, we do not fear anything in/of this world but live a life of reverence and obedience to him.

This doesn’t mean we drive recklessly or jump out of planes without parachutes or commit other dangerous acts as demonstrations of faith. There are no precedents of this in our Scriptures. Even when Paul gets bit by a snake and doesn’t die is not a precedent (Acts 28). He was attacked by the snake, he didn’t run out, catch him, cage him, feed him, and bring him out on Sundays. The danger that the believers in the Scriptures find themselves in is due to their obedience and commitment to God, not their foolish demonstrations of faith.

I think the true tests of faith today are much different. They are more about who/what we identify ourselves with, who/what we serve, who/what we surround ourselves, etc. Ultimately, the tests of faith are we willing to live in the way that God has asked us to? May the Lord give us grace and strength to do this, I tell you, it’s far harder than snake-handling.

My Review of Surprised By Laughter by Terry Lindvall

I was sent this book by Book Sneeze, as always I am not required to give a positive review but an honest one. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Almost a year ago, I attended a lecture given by Terry Lindvall at the C.S. Lewis Society in New York City. I found the lecture to be pretty interesting, was excited about the book until I saw that it was more than 450 pages. Umm … I’ll wait for the movie. Then it became available through BookSneeze and thought I’d sign up.

Surprised by Laughter is a legit read.  For me it wasn’t an everyday book but a one I enjoyed picking up every so often.

A couple things. This book is written with a dude with a PhD. Just a head’s up – PhD humor is different than regular people humor. This is not to say that people with such degrees aren’t funny – some of them really are. But I think it’s safe to say that Terry’s idea of humor is different then the writers of SNL. So who is Terry Lindvall? He is the CS Lewis Professor of Communication and Christian Thought at Virginia Wesleyan College. He is clearly more than qualified and I found his personality to be relatable, it’s no surprise that he would write a book like this.

Two, this book is not for the casual CS Lewis fan. It’s more than 450 pages! It’s not the next step after reading Mere Christianity. Further, if you are not familiar with Lewis’ personality, sarcasm and wit, this might not be that interesting to you.

What I Liked:
– Because I heard the lecture first, I had an appropriate expectation. So it was easy for me to appreciate (this is why some authors are eager to do book tours right?).
– The writing is fantastic. You would expect that but it better be good if you expect people to make it to the end.
– The research is impressive. But it’s not just library research, so much of Terry’s content is found in the stories that are being told by people who knew Lewis and now the children of people who loved him.
– My favorite aspect of the book is that it gives you such a personal perspective of Jack (Lewis’ nickname). It’s not just analyzing how he uses humor, nor is it strictly about comedic episodes of his life, it’s a much broader take on Lewis’ personality and how he saw the world – this included much humor.
– The inclusion of Jack’s friends. Laughter is best experienced with others and it was great to get that.

What I Wasn’t Sure About:
– More than 450 pages! Though well-written, though well-researched, it was hard to be motivated to read it for what it was. But to be fair, just about everything written about Lewis is too long, so I guess this fits the genre :)

Who I Think the Book Is For
This book is really for CS Lewis fans who have to buy every book with his name on it. But the real benefit of the book is that you really get an incredible look in Lewis’ life and so even if you don’t read all the way to the end, you’ll enjoy what you have read. You probably won’t be funnier but you’ll get to see more of Lewis’ personal life (and you may have a a couple more interesting things to say should you stop by the C.S. Lewis Society in New York City).

Reflecting on Aliens & Strangers – Blogging Through Our Sermon Series

A couple weeks ago, Pastor Tom who leads our Wilmington campus preached an excellent message called “Strangers and Aliens.” You can listen to it here.

He opened with asking the question, “What’s it like to be a Christian in New England?” and soon revealed this was a topic of discussion we had during one of our staff devotions led by our Pastor of Outreach, Richard, who was born and raised in the South. It was an interesting conversation as I find myself thinking about the Christian faith in the Northeast quite a bit. I not only think of this geographically but if you know me, you know that I talk a lot about our intergenerational understandings of the faith as well. In fact, if you really know me, you might know that I borderline obsess about how the Xers and Millennials perceive religion, organized and otherwise, spirituality, God, etc. but I digress.

So needless to say, the opening question was like good fair trade coffee in my mug. Tom was preaching out of I Peter and unpacking how at times, Christ followers felt like “strangers and aliens” of this world. This sentiment is likely true for all people at some point in their lives. I have heard my non-believing friends share similar thoughts on how they feel like they don’t really belong here either – something that the Church should always remember. As we all know, the “world” can be a lonely place.

In Peter’s day as he was writing to a group of churches in modern day Turkey, they were experiencing this reality. With the constant threat of Roman persecution and the growing pains of a young church, it was an intense time. Even more importantly, Peter was encouraging them to live counter-cultural to the pagan society which included various forms of debauchery, violence and idol worship.

Today we would ask what qualifies as “debauchery.” Today we ask about violence regularly, what justifies it, how can stop/limit it. And today we would also try to parse out “idol worship.” One person’s idol is another person’s (G)god, right? I would like to point out too that in the early church, many Romans accused the Christian church of “idol worship.” We always see “the other” as a pagan when they don’t believe and worship as we do. Thus, the many that experience the sentiment of feeling like “aliens and strangers.” This should always motivate us to converse with another.

Tom made two observations that I’ve been thinking about. There is a tendency for some in the church to live in two different extremes. One is “Uncritical Acceptance” and the other is “Uncaring Abandonment.” If it wouldn’t have been perceived as divisive and arrogant, I would have yelled, “Amen!”

Tom explained that the in “uncritical acceptance, there was a danger of embracing without discerning the vision and values of the society we live in. He went on to unpack “uncaring abandonment” as the washing of hands of the problems around us, to disengage from the world and retreat into a sub-culture.

I’m thankful that both these extremes (and many nuances in between) have been critiqued by passionate people in the Church today. I think of The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons and Culture Making by Andy Crouch to be great examples of that. (And if you have read those and want to explore counter-culture on a deeper level, I encourage Colossians Remixed by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat . Also check out Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon.

It should dawn on us at some point that we as Christians can navigate both extremes quite easily if we imitate Jesus’ unconditional love to those that were inside and outside of his circle. True followers of Jesus cannot be mindless slaves to the world nor can they pretentious snobs to it either. The love of God is what compels us to not disengage from the challenges of the world and it’s the love of God that lead us to be wise and discerning toe that we can live in ways that are honoring, virtuous and worshipful to God.

It was a very solid and very applicable message, may I and those in our GC community keep it on the forefront.

New Grace Chapel Reading Circle on “Christianity in Crisis” by Andrew Sullivan

Just about every week I get asked what is up with our Reading Circle, when is the next one, what are we reading, what in the world is it?

Here’s the 101 and an invitation to participate in the next one that begins this week.

“Don’t call it a book club!” is the first thing you need to know about our Reading Circle. Book clubs are about the books, we’re about the conversations – see? And further, this time we’re not reading a book. We’re reading an essay by Andrew Sullivan that was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine last month called, “Christianity in Crisis.” Here’s the printer-friendly link.

Here’s an exert.
“… Christianity itself is in crisis. It seems no accident to me that so many Christians now embrace materialist self-help rather than ascetic self-denial, … even regular churchgoers have tuned out the hierarchy in embarrassment or disgust. Given this crisis, it is no surprise that the fastest-growing segment of belief among the young is atheism, which has leapt in popularity in the new millennium. Nor is it a shock that so many have turned away from organized Christianity and toward “spirituality,” co-opting or adapting the practices of meditation or yoga, or wandering as lapsed Catholics in an inquisitive spiritual desert. The thirst for God is still there. How could it not be, when the profoundest human questions-Why does the universe exist rather than nothing? How did humanity come to be on this remote blue speck of a planet? What happens to us after death?-remain as pressing and mysterious as they’ve always been?”

In my opinion, it’s a thought-provoking piece. I’ve already blogged about it as I found myself agreeing and disagreeing throughout. Like with all things, discussing it with others will be probably add and shift some of my thoughts on the piece and all that it relates to. Our Reading Circles are intended to create community and conversation by engaging how stories, ideas, and cultural trends intersect with our faith in Christ.

Many of us had a positive experience reading Don Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years together. I know I have thought about some of our conversations since the last gathering, especially on the parts that I did not connect with but where others did. And I’m confident this two-week circle and our summer circle will be beneficial as well.

If you are reading this outside of my church community, know your thoughts are welcomed too. I’m always up for a good conversation.  Feel free to comment/email/call me.
For those of you around the Grace Chapel, Metro Boston area, hope to see you in the Cafe after GC@Night.