A Brief Review on The Gospel According to LOST

As you may know, I review books fairly regularly. Most of them are sent to me for review. In this case, I bought this one, have not been asked to review it but I’m glad to.

Who is Chris Seay?
He’s the pastor of the Ecclessia Church in Houston, Texas and author of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano, The Gospel According to Jesus, and his latest title, A Place at the Table:  40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor

What I Liked – 

I think the best thing I can say is that it’s an excellent read for “serious but somewhat normal” LOST fans. To no fault of its own, it will disappoint the super-nerd LOST fan. You know the one who has a Mr. Ecko tattoo, convinced the spouse to name the twins “Desmond and Penny” and got the VW van in honor of Hurley.

Really liked the “patron saint” theme – planning on using a little of that in my sermon. Also, liked the artistic renderings of the LOST characters – well done.
In terms of spiritual value, I’m not expecting much from these types of books, however Chris does a fantastic job between being interesting, brief and insightful. Further, it’s very “sermon material” friendly. I know most of the audience are not pastors, but for those who are – bonus!

What I Wasn’t Sure About – 
I read it twice. Once right before Season 6 and again this week in preparation for a sermon in which I was mentioning LOST. I haven’t watched it since the finale so unfortunately, I wasn’t “there” with every reference (which points to the strength of the book by the way). But even not having recapped but having seen the finale, the book felt dated. I imagine Chris feels the same and would love to see him revise and update it. THEN, I would watch the series again and read it again. Win-win here :)

I think LOSTies in my Christian circles would really enjoy this. You can order a used copy through Amazon right now for less than $5.


If You Missed It, January is Anti-Trafficking Month – 3 Links and Articles For You

Anti-Trafficking Day was this past Wednesday (1.12). To be honest, as interested as I am in anti-trafficking and the 20 email lists that I subscribe to, I did not realize til half-way through the day. Maybe you didn’t either but it turns out it’s Anti-Trafficking month so here are some links from the emails and tweets I’ve been catching up on.

IJM Cambodia: Former Chief of Police Convicted of Trafficking Crimes in Historic Ruling – I know we have corruption here in the US too but these headlines always drive me. Also, I had the honor of visiting IJM in Cambodia with my seminary cohort a couple years ago, I am so grateful for this crew of people – they really are amazing.

Invisible Children is working on a new film focused on apprehending the leader of the LRA – Joseph Kony. You can read more and watch the trailer here.

Sex Trafficking in the U.S. – The Polaris Project has a very informative website – you would do well to spend some time there.

Indeed, there are countless other sites and that’s a good thing. It means many care so check some of them out, begin learning, find ways to support, keep sharing and commit this issue to prayer.

Harry Potter and the Student Mission Trip – The Inconsistencies and Virtues of the Missional Life – Post 2-

The primary audience of this series of posts are directed … to me and maybe this one is for youth workers too.

There was a moment during one of our mission trips when a couple of our high school students were debating whether or not they should see the new Harry Potter movie that was coming out when we returned.

When asked for my thoughts I said, “Well I personally have no problem with Harry Potter. Are people really concerned with the magic & sorcery? I grew up on Lucky Charms and Narnia books, I’m now in the ministry …”

They replied, “No, not like that. It’s just odd to be serving at this AIDS Camp and then planning what we’re going to do next week.”

It’s here when they had my attention. I’ve always been sensitive to whether or not short term mission trips were a good thing. I end up concluding that they are when given the appropriate framework. In this case, I was concerned that this mission experience was simply going to be “consumed” similar to how the new Harry Potter movie was going to be “consumed”. On the other hand, I was grateful that they were aware of this tension and so like any good youth pastor, I fueled it.

“Good point, maybe you shouldn’t then.”

To which one replied, “Yeah that’s ok, I don’t really feel up for it anyway.”

It was odd for at least three reasons. One, it was a sudden reactionary response that killed the conversation without resolve. Two was because we were sweating in the intense heat of the Bahamian sun and the prospect of air-conditioning, a comfortable chair and a refreshing cold Coke would be quite alluring (Who is the idiot that chooses these mission trips in July?? Oh ;). The third was it wasn’t my point at all. I simply didn’t believe that God was going to be any more glorified had they gone or not.

I’ve always been in the habit of saying something like “Don’t go on these mission trips, be moved by the experience and return home despising your suburban upbringing. Don’t disdain your family, destroy your material possessions and judge the life-style of others. If you are a suburbanite, you are one, until you move to the countryside or into to the city. Instead, share what you have gained from the experience and invite others to dissever it for themselves. The short term mission trip has many blessings, among them is that it encourages those who are being served to feel the care of countless complete strangers. Another set of blessings is extended to the one doing the serving.”

This is part of the framework that we try to create. This is deepened by the idea that we are to serve in the way of Jesus, which is concerned much more with the attitude and the relationship than with the metrics of the work (though how much work we do is part of stewardship). It’s this attitude that I hope we return with more than the desire to keep building cabins and sidewalks here in the ‘burbs.

I know all of us in ministry want to see tangible differences but having our students sell all their possessions, drop out of high school and become some type of suburban monastics may not be wise, sustainable or even Christ-like. The opposite of that would of course be, having students return home with no distinct differences aside from being tagged in a handful of pictures, a souvenir or two, maybe an encouraging note given by a youth leader and the thought, “I did my part, now where’s the remote?” The latter would certainly be Exhibit A of the poverty tourism argument.

Regular readers know that I like the gray areas and here is no exception. Similar to my first post in this series on “compassion fatigue”, we have to accept who we are and who we are changing into. Not everyone should return from a mission trip, sell all their possessions and return and serve. It’s profoundly beautiful when we see people receive this calling and similarly, we need to receive our own callings. More on that later in the series.

I cannot count the number of times when a student has returned home from serving in New Orleans or at the AIDS Camp and a friend says to them, “I cannot believe you were cleaning out one of those houses destroyed in Katrina – you don’t even clean your room.”

Or in the words of another female student, “My friend said to me, ‘I believe you, but I just can’t picture you helping like that with your church. It hurt at first but I totally got to explain it to her.'” It’s in these accusatory conversations that I believe God finds joy and the server discovers that they have been changed as they were trying to bring change.

That’s a very powerful moment and among the other moments and prayers, I hope God uses all types of lessons to help us with all sorts of virtues contextual to our lives. Maybe in this case, we end up consuming less, giving more, caring more, serving more, judging less and grow in the life that Jesus modeled for us.

The Inconsistencies and Virtues of the Missional Life – Compassion Fatigue – Post 1

The primary audience of this series of posts are directed … to me.

The term “compassion fatigue” originated in the 1950s and specifically pertained to nurses whose sensitivity gradually decreased as they were serving those in desperate need of medical care. This included the elderly, the abused, and the handicapped.

At the surface this seems reprehensible. That is until we examine our own “compassion fatigue”. I’ll be the first to admit that I think a great deal of this because I find it to be very relevant to my life, my ministry and my hopes that extend beyond my vocation.

From the accountant to the dentist, we all want to make the world better. We want to serve our families, our neighbors, those we labor with and those we’ve seen to be in need. We’re grateful for this is noble desire until we feel bombarded with the countless other worthy needs. Where does one begin? Further, our everyday lives take a lot out of us. Between our numerous responsibilities from family to vocational to other service-oriented duties, we start to seriously wonder how can one make a difference in the world and in the next.

Eventually the guilt catches up with us, the sensitivities of our hearts gradually decrease and whether we indulge ourselves to numb our souls further or choose to rationalize our way out of helping, we may find ourselves doing nothing or barely anything – we experience compassion fatigue.

One day, we are confronted by this and one of two things happen. We harden our hearts further to limit the guilt or allow our hearts to be broken and try again.

I’ve been up and down the missional slope of life. I think it’s fair to say that I have inspired a fair number of friends and annoyed many more. I think it’s also fair to say that many have done the same for me. Though I don’t really come to conclusions on these types of reflections, I am observing that no one is missional enough. It’s a thought that is both disappointing and comforting.

You can become quite the self-righteous legalist when you try to save the world. Even despite our best intentions, we may even unwittingly add to the compassion fatigue.

At the same time, to do nothing or to do little like compartmentalize the action to something “controllable” seems to squander the grace and opportunity God gives.  I would say that the goodness found in being generous, compassionate, sacrificial is beyond conscience-pleasing. In short, they are the virtues found in imitating God.

So how does one combat this cycle of compassion fatigue?  (Though I don’t really think it’s a 5-step program, I’m outlining for the sake of simplicity).   They are nuanced and paradoxical, like life is.

1. Celebrate your blessings and leverage your potential to share them. Meaning – don’t feel guilty that you live in the ‘burbs and enjoy a particular lifestyle – accept it and share generously.
2. Learn how Jesus lived in the rhythms of life. He fasted and celebrated. He served others and practiced self-care. Jesus partied with his friends and Jesus demonstrated profound acts of sacrifice before ultimately, His crucifixion.
3. Realize no one can address every need, no one can donate to every cause, no one volunteer their time for every request. Even Jesus did not physically heal all of Israel doing his earthy ministry.
4. Therefore choose the causes that have touched your heart the most. For me and my family, this has been the issues of human trafficking, clean water and the AIDS crisis. There are others that my heart is open for but we try to focus towards these causes and trust that others are focusing on the other worthy ones.
5. Keep your heart anchored in prayer. It keeps all these not only in check, but keeps your heart broken, compassionate and attentive towards God.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to explore the inconsistencies and the virtues that I’ve found in the missional life:   materialism, envy, indulgence, simplicity, generousity and sacrifice complicated by our everyday contexts and our own baggage and gifts – should be fun. Well, it probably won’t be fun but I hope it’s worthwhile so please subscribe via email/RSS to keep up. I would value your input and conversation – many thanks!

Do You Have 2 Minutes to Watch an Eye-Opening Video of Gendercide in China? #AllGirlsAllowed

Back in the fall, one of our LIFE Communities (our version of small, mid-size group ministry) organized a presentation from the organization All Girls Allowed. As one who just had a baby girl born a month prior, it was a very eye-opening and heart-breaking experience.

Of course, I’ve always known about China’s dreaded one-child policy and the last several years, I’ve caught snippets from random books and NPR spots on how Chinese men cannot find women to marry. The way I wrote that sentence implies it’s just a few, right? It’s a few like, millions of men. By 2020, it’s feared the gender imbalance will be in the neighborhood of 10 million men.

How did this happen? Between 1949-1976, China’s population soared to 540 million because of the improvements of infant mortality rates and the increasing of the life-expectancy age. Sentences like that mean more grandparents were surviving to see their healthy grandchildren and great-grandchildren being born.

As a result of, China feared an unsustainable population and instituted the One-Child Policy in 1980 to about a third of the population. It’s designated to affect those in urban areas, however, other sources argue that it affects rural areas as well and enforces against a significantly higher percentage. Everyone agrees that there are exceptions made – They would be for the ruling class and the upper class. It should also be noted that in recent years, some families have been permitted to have a second child if there first born was a girl. This carries with its own set of peculiarities but still, thought it was worth the mention.

Consequently, the One Child Policy has resulted in forced abortions, a severe discrimination against female births, trafficking, forced female sterilizations, a massive number of orphaned children (especially girls) and a number of other human rights violations. Further there are incentives for local state and government officials to insure the success of the One Child Policy which creates even more abuses that we would call scandalous.

Again, this is something that I and I suspect many of you have known in the peripheral but listening to this presentation was heart-breaking. In this week’s posts, I tried to make the point that we should all resolve to seek a better world with God’s help. Indeed, we cannot support all the worthy causes and organizations so may our prayerful consciences be our guide but this is among the ones that have caught my attention and I wanted to bring it to your attention.

The mission of All Girls Allowed is to “reveal gendercide and female infanticide in China. Providing hope to China’s mothers and girls through baby shower gifts and child sponsorship.” Founded by former Tiananmen Square student leader, Chai Ling began All Girls Allowed in 2010. Check out www.allgirlsallowed.org to learn more.  You can also check out Chai’s book A Heart For Freedom:  The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China’s Daughters.  Available at Amazon and at your local Barnes and Noble.

Check out this 2 minute video called “37 Seconds” (you’ll understand why after you watch it).
Thanks for reading and please let me know one way or another if you get involved.

37 Seconds from All Girls Allowed on Vimeo.


“So this is the new year, but I don’t feel any different …” – Three Things We Can Do For a Great Year

“So this is the new year, but I don’t feel any different …”
“The New Year” – Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie

This is one of my favorite opening lines on any album from a band that I truly enjoy because it’s a sentiment that I have often felt. We’ve all experienced some great moment that we thought would forever change our lives. Whether it be after a new year, whether it be after an incredible experience, an amazing trip, we come down from the high of the experience realizing that the moment over-promised this “new life”.

After a while, we stop getting our hopes up. Some times, we even rain on the parades of others. If we’re not careful, we can get even [Read more…]

Refuse to Make a NY Resolution? The Case For Considering to Resolve Something

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, “Would Jesus Have Made New Year’s Resolutions?”, I make them quite regularly. I break them quite regularly too. Like last year, I thought about reading the Bible in the King James Version in honor of its 400th year. Couldn’t do it – I finished up Easter and finished out with the NRSV and NIV. Maybe I’ll try that again when the KJV turns 500 though. I realize writing this publicly may allow the reader to think that I make these without much thought. Perhaps that’s half-true (I need to give that some thought ;) but allowing myself to try new and different things regularly and to allow myself to fail at them as been among the better things I’ve enjoyed in recent years.

Here’s what I learned – I make resolutions because it keeps my desire for good change going and I’m discovering more good. [Read more…]

Would Jesus Have Made New Year’s Resolutions?

I’m a believer of New Year’s resolutions. In truth, I make resolutions quite regularly throughout the year. I joked at the gc@nite service that it’s because I have a lot to work on. More on that another time.  As annoying as it can be to hear the same cliched New Year’s resolutions, I truly think they are a good thing. I like it when people say that they are going to do things differently and seek to better their lives.

Now it’s up to each of us to go past the superficialities and follow through with the discipline of these goals but I think it’s better than not making them. Where is the logic in beginning the year saying, “I don’t want to do anything different”? Each of our lives has room for growth. Everyone.

So last night I wondered if Jesus would have made any New Year’s resolutions. While fully aware that this line of thought borders on trivializing the deity of Jesus, I am playing the “dual nature” card. I imagine Jesus recognized the natural desire to improve upon one’s self or observed circumstance. I imagine that he confronted his personal frustrations and clearly he had a deep desire to address the pain around him.

Can you picture Jesus and the disciples hanging out on the beach on New Year’s Eve night drinking really good beer that Jesus turned from juice and divine-hand-made sparklers that Jesus made from broken fishing rods – he’s always bringing redemption to stuff? (That joke will be funny to only one person.) Ok, that may not have had sparklers but I do imagine Jesus and the disciples having numerous life-infused conversations. It’s interesting to note the gospel accounts always contained the idea of “change” and I imagine they spoke it quite frequently.

I understand the line of thought that one that has no imperfections with his morality nor any facet of his character would not need to make resolutions. Further, it’s hard for me to really take seriously the thought that Jesus wanted to lose a couple of pounds because of the excess weight he put on during the holidays but upon further thought, I am ok with that. (It could be because of all the Easter cantatas I’ve seen so many different types of Jesus that I now have a semi-distorted view. ;)

I can picture most Jewish men looking at their guts after the Feast of Tabernacles (it’s a Harvest Feast), and thinking that they are going to have work off those new pounds. While I am not going to accuse Jesus of the sin of gluttony (something that the Pharisees regularly accused him of), I don’t have a  problem with a Jesus that ate too much.  Does our Jesus need to have six-pack abs? I’m not suggesting that he needs to look like George Costanza but does he need to look Tom Brady? I’m not uncomfortable with Jesus thinking he needed to lose a few pounds and humoring himself with the idea that there may be a design flaw with the human metabolism.

But I digress. What I seriously wonder about was void of any New Year’s observance or calories.  I wonder if Jesus surveyed the years in his late twenties and thought, “This year I’m going to serve the hurt around me.” I do wonder between the first and second year of his public ministry if he said, “I’m going to push the disciples more.” or “Regardless of the expectations, I’m going to seek solitude and pray more.” And I’m not sure I can begin to articulate what he must have thought between the second and his third and final year of his ministry.

It’s in this way that I think I Jesus was always resolving and it’s in this way I hope to follow suit and encourage others to do the same. Later this week, I’ll post more on the idea of resolutions – I do think they are worthwhile.

My Review of Sacrilege by Hugh Halter – #SpeakeasySacrilege

I received a free copy of Hugh Halter’s new book Sacrilege from The Ooze Blogger program. As always, I am not required to write a positive review but only an honest one.

Summary from Hugh’s blog post:

“This issue – How are Christians to live in the World?” Said, more theologically… “What does it mean to live an incarnational life?’ Said, more practically…”What does it mean to become like Jesus?”

Sacrilege is about the Incarnational life of Jesus. In it, I expose Jesus as the least religious person you would have ever met, and show how his non-churchy ways and his absolute sacrilege with the scriptures, the Sabbath, sin, sinners, and a host of other kingpin issues, were exactly why people were drawn to him. But the book isn’t about Jesus. It’s about us.”
Read the rest here.

What I Liked
I really, really liked this book. I found that I resonated with it throughout the chapters.
Hugh is authentic, genuine and bold. But this is not a reflection from an interesting young guy with tattoos jaded by his first few years in ministry. Hugh has been in ministry and training others for decades, has survived ministry burn-out and has enjoyed a renaissance of calling. He speaks with wisdom from many painful experiences (again, I really resonated with him) and offers some clarity in an church conversation often marked by legalism and traditionalism (not to imply that the two go hand in hand).
He sounds like a great down-to-earth pastor, friend, father, husband type of guy (I was often moved by how he would talk about his son with epilepsy).
He’s inspired by Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy
I like any book about missional-living that doesn’t actually reference the term. (This does not mean that I do not like those that do mention it, in fact, some of them are my favorite. But it’s an over-used term and Hugh does a great job contributing to the conversation without contributing to the overdose).
I could go on for a good while but I’m trying to keep these reviews short. I really enjoyed it and recommend it.

What I Wasn’t Sure About
I’d say, Peter Rollins is sacrilegious (in a good way). I loved what Hugh was doing throughout the book with this idea of sacrilege. Citing numerous times where Jesus’ behavior was considered “sacrilegious”, faithful disciples need to follow suit for the causes of the Kingdom. As mentioned, I liked his authenticity but I wasn’t always sure that what Hugh was talking about was actually sacrilegious (and I don’t think who I would identify as a true liberal would identify me as one, so I think it’s a legitimate critique).
I would have liked to see Hugh push it a little further and include more examples like flipping the “double-bird” to his neighbor who was flipping him off. I’m not looking for raunchy behavior, just wanted to see it live up to the expectation. By thew way, that example led to a good friendship that has allowed for much good. New tool for ministry … Hmmm.

Who I Think It’s For
Those that want to think about the missional church movement from a pastoral, down-to-earth perspective without all the fancy terms but without losing the solid and practical insight.
Perhaps those in traditional churches who have no idea/interest of what the term “missional” means but know what their expression of church-life is lacking the beautiful danger that Jesus modeled.
I could see a small group sitting down with this and discussing it over a month or two. He’s got helpful illustrations, makes excellent points and a sound thesis.

In Conclusion
As a believer of plurality, I don’t think all pastors should be like Hugh, but I certainly wish there were more. In my decade of ministry, I’ve met a number of pastors who were “rough around the edges” but some of them were “rough around the soul” too (and every so often I fear that I may adding to that number – and so may God keep my heart broken). For those that have not read the dangerous/controversial/love-filled Jesus, this book will eye-opening and maybe even paradigm-changing. For those that have, will be grateful for guys like Hugh telling the messy story of Jesus with the story of their own messy lives.

You can order it here.

Check out his blog – http://hughhalter.com

And watch this video of Hugh describing his new book