Reflecting on Seeing Rob Bell Speak Recently & Why He Still Matters To Me – Part 2

When I wrote the previous post, I had not read the Rob Bell New Yorker piece nor did I realize the new book Rob Bell and a New American Christianity was already released. I’ll check those out soon but I’m continuing in the direction I was on and perhaps catch up on those thoughts later. If you get a chance, read Part 1 of this but in short, a few weeks ago I saw Rob Bell speak at Christ Church in Greenwich, CT as part of their “Conversations on Courage and Faith” series (Gabe Lyons is speaking in January 12/13 – anyone want to meet up?)

As I made the drive back home, I couldn’t help but think of how it must feel to be Rob Bell in relation to the evangelical Church these days. It’s a question that I apply to just about everybody – women, LGBTQ, other faiths, agnostics/atheists/nones, etc. What’s especially interesting about Rob is that he’s really the only person I can [Read more…]

Reflecting on Seeing Rob Bell Speak Recently & Why He Still Matters To Me – Part 1

I still like Rob Bell. In fact, I might actually like him more now than when he was Mr. Nooma (and I liked many of them). I know he’s been dismissed by many of us admirers and his critics are satisfied knowing that he’s no longer in a pulpit. I presume that there is a good number of people (many of them sincere-hearted) that took the infamous John Piper tweet as prophetic. But he also keeps predicting the Twins will win the World Series. Anyway, all of this has allowed me to appreciate Bell for several reasons, among them is that he’s allowed himself to be vulnerable. That is a quality we need to reclaim as believers.

There is a lot of speculation of why Rob really left. I tend to think it has more to do with him wanting to do something different and between the Love Wins controversy, the security from having written a few best-selling books and that California is a more desirable place to live than Michigan, I could easily see why moving on made [Read more…]

Thanksgiving 2012 Reflection

Among the goodness of Thanksgiving is the practice of taking inventory recognizing the obvious blessings and discovering the less obvious ones. These thoughts represent a couple weeks’ head-start.

In my Thanksgiving Reflection a couple years ago, I wrote: “… In your college years, you’re quite the idealist, in your mid-twenties there is the possibility of getting pretty jaded, now in my thirties, it seems that the two are balancing.” This is still so true for me.

These years I’ve been realizing that I am not as jaded or as cynical as I used to be. Perhaps initially I believed the [Read more…]

Reflecting on Our Church’s Global Awareness Week

A couple weeks ago Grace Chapel hosted “Global Awareness Week” which is an opportunity for us as a congregation to connect with our local and regional partners and catch up on what God is doing through people/organizations throughout the world. I thought last year went really well and this year was even better. The theme this year was “Justice and Compassion” and it was appropriate not only for the content but also for what is needed in the world today. May the Church be on the forefront.

The highlights for me included:

[Read more…]

Some Resources Mentioned in Tonight’s Sermon on “The None’s” or “Unchurched-Overchurched” Understanding of Christianity

Hey friends,

This post is a list of some of the titles I mentioned in tonight’s sermon.
Some great insights, solid research and needed application can be found here. If you do read one of these, please let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

The Outsider Interviews: A New Generation Speaks Out on Christianity by Jim Henderson, Todd Hunter and Craig Spinks

unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

You Lost Me – Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman

A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars by Jonathan Merritt

The Next Christians – The Good News About the End of Christian America by Gabe Lyons

Quitting Church – Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do About It by Julia Duin

Lessons Pastors/Leaders/Influencers Can Learn From Scandals – Part 2

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln (and we thought he was quoted a lot before, by the time Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis are done, Abe’s quotes are going to be as ubiquitous as Taylor Swift. But I digress.)

In my previous post on what we can learn from these recent scandals, I mentioned the possible reasons can be from the need to escape, falling into temptation because of the opportunities that present themselves (sometimes from being pursued or preyed upon) and offered a few thoughts on them.

There is a third reason that I think is important to discuss and worthy of its own post and here’s what I offered previously:
“Perhaps it doesn’t have anything to with being preyed upon or a real need for escape but instead – people reveal their true selves when given power, wealth and access along with the misguided notion that “I can get away with it.”


I think that is scary because it points to that people can capable of great evil and how easy they are able to either be the main character of the evil acts or the conduit of it. Power can bring liberation to an entire nation or with a few simple words and a seal that represents a particular office can bring great pain and devastation to another nation. That is scary.

This is very difficult for us to get – we just don’t have access to such power. What we can relate to is that each of us have this idea of the life we think we should live. And to cut to the chase, when things don’t go our way, we are not only disappointed but we feel that something is “owed” to us. Now some of the these things are petty, some are downright tragic and there’s a lot in the middle. Numerous times I have heard people say, “I just didn’t ever think my life would end up like this.”

It seems when you have power, you not only see the opportunity to gain back the things you felt owed to you but you delude yourself into thinking that you are either an exception to the rule or that you will get away with it. This is the point of the Lincoln quote – give someone power and they will reveal their character.

Then there’s our context here in the West. Ordinary men and women can gain status and clout by talent that is either quantified into wealth or acquire an office by a democratic election or an appointing for the common good. In the church world, committees search, deliberate, hire, and ordain thereby granting authority to do great works of good in the name of God.

But sadly month after month, and sometimes week after week, we hear of another scandal and tarnish another name – Petraeus, Armstrong, and Sandusky – How does this keep happening? How do we stop it? What can we as leaders learn from such terrible scandals?

We often label the root cause to such behavior as an issue of entitlement. It seems the first step in confronting our entitlement is to expand the term to include the selfish notion that wrongfully desires “the life we thought we were suppose to have.” When we look at it that way, we can identify some of our weaknesses and potential temptations.

For the pastor and Christian ministry type, it seems our entitlement may also come from an incomplete theology of salvation, calling and mission. It’s worth considering just what happens at conversion, and what needs to happen in the doctrine of regeneration. Further, if we could think less selfishly of how we think we should live in Christ and extend it to how others should live, we would overcome our issues of entitlement and focus more on justice, compassion, and seek the common good in a way that truly serves people and honors God.

The two go hand in hand. This is why so many are so devastated when powerful people we have trusted use their position to not only selfishly please/profit themselves but also add to the injustice and abuse/rob from the weaker. And this is what pastors/leaders/influencers are to do – join the work of God in bringing His justice, redemption and hope to others.

There will always be scandals, there will always be abuses of power and we should continue to seek, remove and punish the scandalizer. The good news is that all of us seek and celebrate character, we are a world that is always looking for heroes and inspiration, this is among the reasons why so many of us are captivated by the story of Jesus. May we learn from our failures, from the failures of others and may we rely on God’s grace to follow in his footsteps.

Lessons Pastors/Leaders/Influencers Can Learn From Scandals – Part 1

Sadly, it’s become a routine part of our week to hear about a breaking scandal. Last week it was revealed that David Patraeus, head of the CIA and Gulf War hero resigned after an “F.B.I. investigation uncovered evidence that he had been involved in an extramarital affair.”  Many have commented  that the timing of the revelation is odd given that he was to testify about the Benghazi attack.  Yes but the story should be just as troubling regardless of that and should remind us of the need for trust and character in positions of power and influence.

Yesterday news broke about Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a young man who was 16 at the time. And sadly, there’s always news of a pastor or a Christian figure allegedly involved in something inappropriate as well.

Understandably many wonder what drives these men (and women) to do such things – “Don’t they know they’re going to get caught??” I’ve thought that too.

In listening, reading and wondering, I often hear these possibilities:
The need for escape from the pressure and stress that drives people into temptation and the abuse of their power.
They are often preyed upon by people who want to experience the excitement of the power and spotlight.
Perhaps it doesn’t have anything to with being preyed upon or a real need for escape but instead – people reveal their true selves when given power, wealth and access along with the misguided notion that “I can get away with it.” 

Or is it a combination of all these reasons and more?  In any case, what are we to learn from such things? And more importantly, what is our motivation for learning? Is it to escape in the gossip of damaged reputations and feel morally superior,  is it to become more effective in hiding our own trespasses and potential scandals? Or do we hope to learn for the good of others and for the common good? In answering that question we can move from the judgement of others, away from our selfish pursuits and into the protection and restoration of others.

I want to examine these often-heard possible explanations and offer some thought for not only preventing future scandals (maybe our own) but even more important, to actually live better and in way that is faithful to the calling we have received.

“The need for escape from the pressure and stress that drives people into temptation and the abuse of their power.”
This has always felt a bit incomplete to me and “too convenient” as in “I’m so stressed, I just can’t help myself …” Still, there’s something about “the need for escape” as we can all see so much personal, relational and social damage attributed to this idea of needing “to get away from it all.” Examples of escapism include abusing of drugs, alcohol, food, sex, media, a hobby, a cause and just about anything that you can lose yourself in.

Among the many problems with escapism is its arrogantly individualistic and does not take into account the needs or feelings of others. It’s not to say that people are completely selfish and quietly loath their loved ones and so forth but for whatever reason, their judgement is clouded and their need for escape overcomes their sense of duty and responsibility, blinds them of their identities and enables them to forfeit their sacred vows.

We should find that when we are stressed that we need to be in conversation with people we love and trust. We ought to also feel that we need to “escape” not from something but to something and so the need for prayer, meditating, reading, journaling, reflecting, etc. should be lifelong and very important practices for us.

When I find others stressed, it’s amazing what a conversation over coffee, a beer, or a meal can do. Of course, it’s not the consumption of the said examples but the relational energy and care for each other that helps keep each other grounded, accountable and cared for. We would be well-served to reach out to each other when we are stressed and when when we find others stressed.

“They are often preyed upon by people who want to experience the excitement of the power and spotlight.”
Indeed, I’ve heard stories like this and on a very small level, have even experienced some of the awkward attention often associated with being a pastor/leader (again even on this small level). When I hear such statements, it seems to me they serve better as warnings than any basis of justifying scandalous behavior. Yes, there are people trying to trap others. It is not beyond belief that there is a woman out there trying to seduce Tim Tebow in some scandal (there could be a guy trying the same too). Similarly, I am confident that there are evil men/women out there trying to trap women of power/influence as well.

But what I see more of is people who are enamored with the spotlight and to make a long story short, commit a series of bad decisions and compromises that result in a mutual realization that both/all parties are in too deep and have a little recourse but to try to cover it all up out of self-preservation and perhaps also, confused feelings. Obviously I am not a qualified a psychologist, please only read those words as an observer.

But here’s the lesson for pastors, leaders and influencers of any kind. You may not consider yourself that good-looking or attractive (and let’s face it, a lot of these guys involved in such scandals are not “studly” by any means ;), but no one should be naive to the opportunities that present themselves.  The sheer volume of pastoral sex scandals should remind us of this.

The success story is not the simple avoidance of a sex scandal but to live a life that is honorable, that serves the common good, and for the Christian, a life that brings glory to God. Let us recognize the various temptations associated with our positions (sexual and financial) and practice safe guards that protect what we represent, protect those we love and follow with me here, also protect the potential fellow scandal-partner(s) – many of whom are often hurting themselves and have spouses, children and families that could be devastated as well.

Among the many takeaways from these scandals are for those who are married, strengthen your marriage. For those abstinent, guard your celibacy. Let us be people of prayer, of moral fortitude, and who put the needs and good of others before our own – as that is part of the responsibility with everyone who holds a position of leadership, everyone who holds a microphone, everyone in power. Again, we do these things not merely to avoid scandal but for honor and to live as intended. May the Lord strengthen us as we seek to rely on Him.

In addition to being preyed upon and the need for escape, I want to look also at the third given reason in the next post: when given power, wealth and access along with the misguided notion that “I can get away with it” that people reveal their true selves.

Thanks for reading, feel free to add/send your thoughts/comments.

My Review of Hazardous by Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper

I am really excited to post this review and by saying that, the first thing I should admit is that I am hardly objective here. I’ve never pretended that this wasn’t a blog and so have embraced my subjectivity – I think the world of Ed and Derek and hope you read this book, not just because they’re great guys but it’s great book written by great guys.

Most of my time with Ed has been online interacting on Twitter, Facebook and enjoying his blog and a conversation here and there.
Derek on the other hand was one of my favorite professors at Biblical Seminary. We were introduced to him early in the LEAD Mdiv program and I’d say he was a significant shaper of our forming theological perspective over the years. I consider Derek to be the most brilliant guy I know who is younger than me – grateful to call him my friend.

And now onto the book. Hazardous tackles the great challenge of presenting the real and difficult aspects of Christian discipleship. They put their thesis front and center – following Jesus is risky. It’s a good thing they didn’t ask me for advice because I would have told them, “Hey guys, it sounds a little negative. I mean, I agree with you guys, but this sort of stuff just doesn’t jump off the shelf or the Amazon page …”

I think they would have smiled and graciously replied “We know.”

This book is excellent for at least three audiences:
First, for those tired of presentations of Christianity that are cliched and over-promise how wonderful the Christian faith is. (It is wonderful but only because faith is dangerous, not because it’s easy.)
Second, I can easily see this as a resource for adult small group/Sunday School/Adult Discipleship teachers that have already used some of the more popular resources. The content is solid and accessible and there’s a good bit to chew on here.
Third, a pastor looking for sermon material would be well-suited to create a series based on Hazardous. (Fellow pastors if you are interested, please let me know, Ed can hook you up with some additional help with this part).

Further, those who appreciate Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright and others will see their influences on Ed and Derek. In fact, they wrote it with the thought of “What could come after reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship?” So perhaps that is a fourth audience.

Among the first things I noticed is that the book is written with a timeless quality to it. There is very little interaction with pop-culture. Besides a David Bowie reference, the book is void of celebrity or brand references, etc. and though I am one who very much enjoys that intersection of faith and culture, even I found this to be refreshing.

Writing on discipleship is a difficult task. In my opinion, what we have in our evangelical community is a handful of amazing books on the topic but many others seem to fall into a couple of traps. In the author(s)’ desire to offer a “classic” work, there is that risk of coming across as a Bonhoeffer/Dallas Willard imitation. The second trap is when the author(s) don’t reference their society, they risk losing context and connection with the reader. While I always enjoy the important exercise of exegeting the culture, Ed and Derek seem more interested in exegeting Scripture and us.

Each chapter explores an element or a challenge of the discipleship (“Discipleship is Messy and Risky” or “Discipleship Involves Our Families,” or “Discipleship Requires Listening”) and examine characters and scenes in Scripture that have wrestled with the call of obedience. The chapter contain an excellent and fast-moving explanation of a Biblical passage, carefully avoids rabbit trails (you can feel the restraint), offers push-back questions consistent with the context that are legit like “Are We Going to the Same Place As Jesus?”, “What About Soldiers?”, “Should We Leave Our Jobs Behind?” and “Are We Really Hearing God?”

My one wish for the book was not knowing who wrote what chapter. I looked and looked to see if there was a mention in the intro that they would alternate chapters but never found it. It probably only matters for people like me who read with the author(s)’ voice in mind (I even make up a voice when I haven’t heard the actual. You should hear the voice I have for Martin Luther, boisterous, always shouting with a lot of inflection and beer in hand. I know it’s weird but whatever it takes to continue the discipline of reading is the idea).

Regardless, Ed and Derek have written an exceptional book on the risks of following Jesus that avoids over-promising some easy life but rather offers an intelligent, classic feel to the most central pursuit of the Christian. Hope you check it out.

You can buy it and learn more here.
Follow Ed on Twitter and check out his blog
Check out Derek’s author page on Amazon
And if you are interested in seminary, check out the place we graduated from – Biblical Seminary.

A Post-Election Reflection

Like everyone out there, I have some post-election thoughts. I thought it would be a good idea for me to wait a couple days and let my thoughts and some dust settle before posting. With the quickness of receiving information and the ability to offer our thoughts, I/we have a tendency to become reactionary and overly-dramatic. Though I’m grateful that our free elections have not created physical violence, riots and casualties, I am drained by the emotional violence and anger I keep seeing and feeling out there.  With that said, know this post is as much for me as it is for others.

First, I want to address the non-sense that the country is going to hell now as a result of Obama’s reelection – it’s not. We Christians cannot respond spitefully and need to avoid such judgmental and condescending language. Even further, if the country/world is going to hell, this should grieve us, cause us to respond in sincere and humble prayer seeking God’s mercy – not only for us but for all people.

It’s a very telling moment when Jesus is dying on the cross and prays, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This is a time for compassion, kindness, serving the other and preaching the hope of Jesus. Angry words, finger-pointing and other culture-war tactics is the path of disunity and destruction, let the Church be and do better.

Second, when we say, “It’s ok about the election because God is sovereign” or “God is my President/KingIII!”, let’s be sure we mean that in the true sense and again, not in the spiteful or a device of rhetoric. If we are confused on which is true for our hearts, let us ask if we would have posted that if our preferred candidate had won the election. If your choice was Romney and he won and you can’t post that God is on the throne, you may be guilty of placing your faith in mere mortals as opposed to the Sovereign Lord we profess.

Third, I have been blessed by the many who have expressed they will be praying for our President and our leaders. I confess, that I don’t pray enough for our political leaders. I tend to remember to pray for them publicly, but not anymore than our religious leaders/servants and other cultural influencers. And I probably pray more for the latter privately. I’m not really sure what my disconnect is but it may have something to do with my preconceived notions that they are just as important and just as culture-shaping as our political leaders. I know I am supposed to believe that a Senator has more power and influence than Justin Bieber but some days I wonder. In any case, I do need to pray for them, not that they will respond to my agenda but that they would experience God’s goodness and allow themselves to be used by God. I’m grateful to those that have reminded me of this.

So praise God that He is sovereign, these are the days for prayer and to seek unity. But not because of the election but rather because this is what humanity should be doing every day. And may the Church lead by example. May those who are slumbering awake, may those who are apathetic or jaded allow their hearts to be inspired, may those who are angry or bitter be freed. May God bless the US and may He also bless all who inhabit our beautiful and complicated world.

God is Not Sending Hurricanes and Other Natural Disasters

It’s best to read this post knowing that my motivation is not intended to be harsh, mean-spirited or snobby. I think the simple and direct title demonstrates that restraint as I could have come up with something much more dramatic and sarcastic.

Fellow Christians, we need to stop the non-sense of declaring that our hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and various other natural disasters and violent attacks are divine judgments from God.  They are not.

Just the other day, Shirley Phelps-Roper, (Westboro’s Fred Phelps’s daughter) thanked God on Twitter for Hurricane Sandy hitting the East Coast. In the eyes of the self-righteous who have superficial understanding of the Christian faith and Scriptures, natural disasters are a divine judgments from God.  Unless God Himself declares them to be, then do not speak for Him.

Listen, until God Himself proclaims that a particular natural disaster is from Him for a particular reason, let us not dare to speak on His behalf.

I’ve always found such things to be mind-boggling as it seems so blatantly judgmental and borders on blasphemy. Yet, before and after just about every disaster theres’s always a religious leader (or a sincere-hearted Facebook friend) that blames this specific disaster on a specific sin. Inevitably the individual will offer a defense that usually goes along the lines of “We cannot be soft on sin as God hates sin” or “God judges like this in the Old Testament so …”

This is flawed on so many levels and I’m attempting to address some of them here.

One, in some cases, this is a ploy to manipulate and hurt others. It’s the ultimate “I told you so.” It generally comes from someone who has been griping about a specific demographic of people, feels ignored then, then exploits a tragic circumstance to speak for God. They usually consider themselves to be “prophetic” and I hate to say this, but most of us in the Church usually consider them to be delusional or to put it more politely, extremely off-base” if they really believe in what they are saying. If they don’t, then again, this is hurtful and manipulative. Examples include Fred Phelps and Pat Robertson and that Facebook friend whose profile pic is Jesus wearing an American flag robe with a bald eagle on his shoulder.

No one is suggesting that we be “soft on sin.” But when we start pointing out other people’s sins and ignore our own, we become the judgmental legalists that Jesus warned us about and He was clear that we needed to be authentic about the sins displayed by our actions and the ones hidden in our hearts. Further, the Lord taught us to always be loving, to be reconciling, even our rebukes were to be bathed in love.

Second, declaring such judgments paints God as violent, in need of anger-management and forgetful. Does not the story of Noah and the flood have God promising to never wipe out humanity with a natural disaster again? Are these natural disasters His way of saying, “Well technically it’s wind and rain and not a flood and I’m not wiping out humanity, only a few of them …” That’s simply not the God I believe in.

Further, why would God be more upset by one group of people’s sins like homosexuality over another, like adultery or pride or deceit or manipulation? This seems obviously odd. Why does God seem so angry at the sins that don’t define your life or your church but extremely angry with the sins that you happen to loathe the most? That is not only very convenient but again, self-righteous.

Why would God be so selective, especially since our Scriptures spend more time dealing with our selfish, idolatrous hearts than our sexual practices? Be careful how you answer this – it’s rhetorical. Now if a firmament of water were suddenly released on homes after visiting certain websites or if a home was leveled and a scarlet “A” was divinely painted on the lawn or if God plucked out an eye every time there was lust, then I’d retract. Btw, interesting in the latter example that Jesus uses hyperbole as opposed to a literal judgment. Even further, we see that he’s not interested in the superficial and external “better practices” but ultimately that followers be in pursuit of a pure heart.

Third, it’s just weird.  Why would God choose the weather and what about the rest of the weather in the rest of the country and the rest of the world? What about the weather in the rest of the country?  Do we assume that sunny days come only when God is happy? He seems to be quite moody in Washington State and quite happy with everyone in California.  The world’s weather patterns are not going to be an accurate gauge of God’s feelings and again it’s just weird.

Lastly, such statements water down the gospel message of Jesus from proclaiming a Savior that offers life, forgiveness and unconditional love to a message that God has had enough with our crap and He’s cleaning up this mess … by creating a bigger one. Now again, if the righteous were spared during such violent acts like the Angel of Death taking the lives of the first born of Egypt (which by the way came with a prophecy, then the sparing of Israel’s firstborn and recorded in inspired Scripture, as opposed to a televangelist asking for money at the end of the program), then you’d have something.

What we see in Scripture is a God that is offering redemption to this world and has invited us to partake in bringing His Kingdom of peace, hope and love here on earth and to establish it forevermore. May the Lord be with us these days. May we brought to repentance and restoration for daring to speak on His behalf and may the Church be known not for a judgment but for hope and redemption … especially on the darkest of days.