24 December 2005

Scandalous Night

The following is a dilogue sermon preached by Patrick Mead and Josh Graves. Italics are Patrick, normal font is Josh.

This is a hard day for me. People want me to be involved in a culture war and wear “Merry Christmas” on my sleeve. Christmas has become, in some ways, a political issue.

Others want me to preach against materialism; about how we have thrown away Jesus for a sale at the mall. Still others want me to throw the whole holiday away. It’s just a remnant of a pagan celebration, they say.

But I confess: I love the lights. I love the tinsel and the trees. I love the crowded stores and I love buying presents.

So what’s a Christmas loving, present buying, ornament hanging, eggnog drinking preacher to do?

How about: brace myself for reality. How about: approach the story of the birth of Christ the way it really was and see how that changes things.
Strip away the tinsel and the wrapping presents. No more elves, reindeer, and, I’m sorry, but Santa will have to go as well. Shopping malls are demolished, eggnog poured out—we’re stripping Christmas of its pomp and flair. This means there will be no credit card statements in January to fret over (now there’s good news). This also implies the pressure is off to buy that perfect gift.

Yes, we’re stripping Christmas. Please turn in your lists of things you “need” and exchange it for something much more meaningful. Turn off the cheesy Christmas music (not “Silent Night”…no, no—I’m talking about the Christmas music that isn’t really about anything at all).

In fact, while we’re at it. We’re going to tear down this church building. Yep, I’m sorry but the building has to go. “Why?” you ask. Well, we’re stripping Christmas for everything it has morphed into over the last several decades: buildings, possessions, sales, institutions, commercialization, deals and…well, anything that clouds the real scandal of the night when God chose to enter into the human drama.

Like a playwright, I can see God going over the script in his mind. “Ok, we’ve got all the characters in place: Mary, the young maiden, will play the role of unassuming hero. She will bear God into the world. I will choose the least likely person for the most significant role: woman, youth, uneducated, lower class—that’s should remove any doubt about the kind of people I work with. Now, for my next character, I need Joseph. Joseph will have to make good out of a messy situation. His name will be slandered and his reputation put in jeopardy. His fiancĂ© is pregnant and he’s not the father, at least he’s not the biological father. Ok this is shaping up to be a fine drama. Now, a couple of distant characters need to be brought into this action: Caesar and Herod. Caesar, the most powerful man in the entire world. Commander of a Nation that stretches from England to Africa, France to Arabia—the one whom all Roman citizens and subjects must confess, ‘Caesar is Lord.’ More dangerous than Caesar though will be Herod. Herod shall be an extension of Caesar. Yes, Jewish but much more concerned about his place in the Roman Empire than the covenant community that is Israel. Oh, these two political power players will have huge implications for the One who is about to enter into the world. And let’s throw in Zechariah and Elizabeth—yes they’ll experience a similar shock to Mary and Joseph only their gift will pave the way for the One. Add Simeon (the one person who will truly understand the scandal of divinity mixing with flesh) and the stage is set for the One to enter into to his own story.”

And they shall call him Yeshua, which means God will rescue and save you from the powers and principalities. And they shall call him Immanuel, which means God once roamed the earth in bodily form. And they shall call him son of David, demonstrating the faithfulness of God through many centuries. And they shall call him the Lion who rules over all things. And they shall call him the lamb that takes away the sin of the world. And they shall call him Messiah, which means he has been anointed to embody the Way of God in a broken world. And they shall call him Son of God because he is truly the one unique manifestation of God. And they shall call him Lord…because he is the author and perfector of our faith—in him all of creation is held together. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.

Those are impressive titles are the not? Unfortunately, these titles do not emerge, or at least they do not begin to impact the early followers of Jesus until a few generations after his death and resurrection. The easy thing to is to make Jesus so divine in his earthly life that we render him an ancient superman of sorts.

But, don’t do this.

Here’s where I think the pagan part comes in. I love nativity scenes, but let’s be real: the real barn would have been dark, full of dust, motes of straw, blood, the smell of sweat from Mary – and Joseph, the stink of animals… When we remove all that and put white faces on Mary, Joseph and Jesus, put adoring, sweet looking angels around them and maybe a few shepherds… we have turned the story of the birth of Christ into some Nordic myth. We have the birth of Thor the Sincrusher, not the lamb of God.

That is just the beginning of the problem. If we have a sterile birth scene we lose the power of God at work in the middle of pain, fear, darkness, confusion, and… well, a very bad place. (Norman Rockwell gifts) God works in lives that look not even a little like a Norman Rockwell painting.

We tend to want to “pretty up” the stories in the Bible. We want to wipe the sweat off of Mary, hide all the blood, make the swaddling clothes white and clean, but…

The stories in Matthew and Luke do not allow us to do this. Let him be as human as he was created to be by His father. Allow him to have a sense of humor, to be angry with the religious leaders, to show his emotion in all its different colors. Please, allow Jesus to be a man. Let him develop as a man of intense faith. Don’t make him out to be the 12-year-old genius and wizard (as some of the Apocryphal works do)—Jesus, like you and I, is in process. Remember he doesn’t officially hit the public scene until he is about the age of 30.

This concept of a developing Christ might be strange to you, but remember what you read when we went through the gospels. Jesus is surprised by some people’s faith, he is angered, he cries. He is, in a word, human. And he has human parents.

And please allow his parents to speak a fresh word of encouragement this morning. In Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph is the focal point—the one on whom all the angels and creation lean in asking, “What will he say? Will he say yes to God?” Will he believe the angel or will he chalk it up to bad Chinese food or stress at the office? What will this Joseph think? Will he allow his wife-to-be to endure shame, and gossip. “There’s goes Jesus—who’s his father anyway?” It is scary to think, that had Jesus been born today, he might be a candidate for abortion.

"In our own age of people who raise children without benefit of marriage, the issue of legitimacy sounds a bit quaint, but the heart of the story is much bigger and more profound than that. The heart of the story is about a just man who wakes up one day to find his life wrecked: his wife pregnant, his trust betrayed, his name ruined, his future revoked. It is about a righteous man who surveys a mess he has had absolutely nothing to do with and decides to believe that God is present in it…He claims the scandal and it gives it a name. He owns the mess—he legitimates it—and the mess becomes the place where the Messiah is born," (Barbara Brown Taylor in Gospel Medicine).

I’m really glad that Joseph didn’t do what many conservative Christians say they would do in any given situation, “Well, I’ll just do what the Bible tells me to do,” as if the Bible can just be mined for any situation without thought or interpretations. As one man reminded me this week, do we know what the Bible Joseph read instructed him to do in this situation? It instructed him to take the woman out “and stone her death in front of the people,” what about that (Deut. 22)? Joseph understood that the Scriptures must always be read through the heart and character of God. I’m glad he didn’t just read the Bible and do what it says. Aren’t you?

Don’t run from this or do the standard cop-out of “well, they didn’t have the Bible, but we do.” It isn’t that simple. Every life is new; a new story and a new opportunity for God to work mighty things in frightening ways in that life. THIS IS NEW. And so is your life.

Just as Josh did for this story – in every story you need to establish and name the characters who will play a part in the plot. And you have to find a hero. So, in this story, who is the star? Matthew and Luke have different opinions about this.

And as insistent as Matthew is about the centrality of Joseph in the birth story, Luke is equally insistent that Mary is in fact the lynch pin to this whole divine scandal. For Luke, this makes sense. Remember he’s writing a gospel in which everything is turned upside down and inside out. Reversals of class, education gender, religion—these are all the results of the in-breaking work of God through the prophet from Nazareth. Naturally, Mary is chosen in the starring role.

But if she is a star, she is a young star. Probably no older than 13, Mary would not be able to vote, drink wine at dinner—she wouldn’t even be able to sit in a high school classroom or go to the prom. Yet, God reaches into Mary’s world and says, “I think you are exactly the kind of person I’m looking for. You might feel overwhelmed and under-equipped. But Mary, I don’t call the qualified, I qualify the called.” [Please repeat and emphasize this, Josh]

And if she is a star, she is a hesitant star. Mary remains humble throughout the entire affair. She waits on the movement of God. She’s obedient—going and speaking every place and word she’s been instructed.

But, as alone as Mary is, she isn’t totally alone. Her life serves as a reminder of what it means to let God write the story of your life. In every story – including yours – you have to decide who the players are going to be. What allegiances will you make? Which ones will you avoid? Mary could have chosen Herod’s path: compromise Jewish teaching for a higher place in the culture. Our kids are tempted to do that almost every day in school. All they have to do is go along a little more with the culture and they will be more accepted, loved, and less alone.

Mary's allegiance was to the one true God. She did not bow down to any other lord, any other state, nor did she go along to get along with anyone or anything. She chose to walk with God even when that path was dark, uncertain and frightening.

It isn’t just Mary and Joseph, though. What about Jesus? What kind of hero was he?

What does the birth say about Jesus?

1. Humble.
2. Approachable.
3. Underdog.
4. Warrior.

The Bible is essentially about the movement and activity of God. It isn’t so much about our accomplishments and failings as it is about the steadfast goodness of the one who started this whole story. The writer and creator of the play decided to become a character in his own creation. We do not choose him, he initially chooses us.

But unless we respond to the work of God, the Kingdom is thwarted. As with Joseph and Mary, all of heaven is waiting to hear our response. Will we cower away and hide behind family responsibilities and perceived “morality?” Will we hide behind our fears and insecurity? Will we hide because we are more passionate about Herod and his agenda or the rule of Caesar than we are risking everything for the sake of the Gospel?

Mary could have hidden behind the “but I’m a good person” wall and done nothing with her life. She chose to be the obedient handmaiden of God.

And now the story comes to us and invites us in. God is moving no less now than then. The star that shone over Bethlehem wants to shine again; this time in your life. God wants to break into your story. And when He does, it will not look like a scrubbed and backlight nativity scene. Are you ready to say ‘yes’ anyway?

This Christmas, God is inviting you and I to birth his good news into a dark world. The angels are waiting for our answer and they promise to go with us should we choose to say, “yes.”

20 December 2005

When You Least Expect (part one)

This post (today's at www.mikecope.blogspot.com) reminded me of a story currently playing in my family.
George grew up in a difficult family. In fact, he rarely discusses his youth in any context. It's almost as if life begins at 17 in his mind.

George was a young boy when his father died in tragic accident; falling of the roof to his death in his early 30's. George spent time in the homes of many relatives until he was old enough to enlist in the Navy; to join the U.S. military efforts in Korea. George was only 17. He was so desperate to make a clean break, he forged his age (as did so many desperate and eager young men a half century ago).

It was in the Navy, that George's appetite for life came alive--alcohol, gambling and women--at least that's the way he describes it.

Once out of the Navy, George went to school to become an engineer. Highly intelligent and savvy, George was destined for a bright and secure future. One problem persisted--his love for alcohol grew to an "out of control" status. George would spend much time and money gambling and drinking. His late 20's and 30's were spent in the bars and casino's. His wife (Winnie) spent countless hours raising the children wondering if her husband could ever remove himself from the trappings of the bottle.

On one of Winnie's birthday's, 1978 to be exact, George came home wasted. The conversation went something like this.

"I can't take this anymore," Winnie pleaded. "I want you to leave this life you've carved out. Give me a wish George...just one wish, that's all I'm asking you. Can you at least do that?"

"Ok...I'm listening," stammered George.

"I want you to be sober for one day. Just one day, I want a husband who's not intoxicated."

Infuriated George left the room. Knowing the demand just placed on him, he retreated to the upstairs room. Looking himself in the bathrooom mirror he thought, "When's the last time I went a day without a drink? I don't know if I can do it?"

As George watched T.V. that night, he knew something had to change. "I was watching a movie about a woman who was an alcoholic...she couldn't see herself for who she really was."

It was in that moment that George saw himself for who he really was--a man broken with little direction and less light.

Since that day in the late 1970's George has not touched a bit of alcohol. In part two, I'll tell you the rest of the story; the story that is my grandpa George.

15 December 2005

The Gospel Broke Out in NY City

I just returned from a brief road trip with my twin brother (Jason) and my father (Phil). Though we do not spend as much time together as we should, these are the two closest men in my life. When I have relationship dilemma's, I go to them. When I have financial questions, I call Jason (he's a VP for commercial loans for a bank at the age of 26...you could say, we're a bit different). When I have other concerns, ideas, I usually bounce them off my dad. When I wanted to move to Texas to try coaching at the college level, my dad was the first person I called. These two men have been with me for a long time. They've seen all my sides, good and not so good.

The last two days of our trip was spent in New York city. I was not prepared for the sheer size and popluation of this country within a state.

We went to Ground Zero. I imagined what it would have been like to hear the screams, and chaos of that awful day in 2001. Smoke, fire, death--the smell overwhelms my imagination. The horror of this day is easily accessible as I stood outside the perimeter of the property. God be merciful to us.

We also ventured to Times Square (spent too much money trying to beat my brother in games at the ESPN ZONE), Rockefeller Center, and Central Park. New York is truly a city with a thousand personalities, and a million different ethnicities.

Perhaps, my favorite leg of the New York tour, was Liberty Island--more famous for housing the Statue of Liberty than its name. As we approached the dock to board the ferry (you pay to get to the island, then you pay to actually tour the statue...gotta love NYC) an older man stood in my path singing an old hymn. "My father...in my father's house...won't that be the day? Won't that be the day?"

In a city with several million people, the world's finest restaurant's, fashion mecca, center for much intellectual progress--I was captivated by this old man and his song.

Think of the insanity of his claim...a day when buildings, material posession, degrees, titles, homes, vehicles, attire--none of these things will we be able to hide behind.

I'm not of the escapist persuasion when it comes to the end of the world. In fact, I hate that phrase "the end of the world." My faith says that God created everything good and humankind in his own image. My faith says that although God made the world "the world is not the way God made it." My faith says that despite the broken, chaotic, and violent world we live in...God is on the move. He's up to something so great, even our greatest minds cannot concieve what that will be.

In the meantime, like the man standing on the dock in New York city, we wait. And we sing. We sing about something we cannot prove. We sing a song of light in a dark world.

30 November 2005

C.S. Lewis: Alive and Well

As is most of the Western World--I've been going back and re-reading several works belonging to one of the great Christian minds: C.S. Lewis.

Remembering how he captured my imagination the first time I read about the mystical world of Narnia. Or how he absolutely nailed me in Screwtape Letters. His comments on sex, evil, suffering, and ethics surface in my life in some of the strangest moments. Or how in Until We Have Faces I began to understand (albeit for the first time) a true picture of transformation.

A recent experience as a pastor reminded me of these famous words, "There are two errors which are race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an unhealthy and excessive interest in them." I know plenty of people in both ditches; some who have made an awful amount of money; some who look eerily similar to my own reflection.

In a recent article, the step-son of Jack (as his friends called him) Lewis recounted a story of C.S. and J.R.R. Tolkien. Apparently, Tolkien and Lewis were walking when approached by a man asking for money. Lewis obliged the man and gave him the requested funds. After the man walked away, Tolkien commented, "Jack, don't you know he'll spend that on liquor." To which Jack commented, "I'd probably do the same."

C.S. Lewis will continue to live in the words and teachings of Christians because he understood the essential paradox of faith. Though reason, proof, and intellect are crucial to the human experience, they cannot replace faith, imagination, and hope.

23 November 2005



NPR ran a piece last night that is a testimony to God's spirit at work in the world. As I've written about before, Brian and Lisa Cain (founding directors of God's Helping Hands) are part of the Rochester Church family. When they were down and out, the shepards of this church stepped in and paid their mortgage. Overcome with relief, joy, and sheer gratitude--in addition to the sickness and eventual death of their son Kevin--the Cain's were broken by the things that break the heart of God.

God's Helping Hands is primarily supported by the Rochester Church in addition to help from local congregations. Many are just now showing interest--the future looks bright for this ministry.

On Saturday, GHH helped over 200 families (800 people). 140 disciples of Jesus volunteered to spend the majority of their Saturday engaged in this great work.

Today and this week I'm grateful to be a part of a group of people who are committed to becoming transformed, as each day passes, into the image of Jesus.

I had the priveledge of interviewing many of the individuals and families who are supported by God's Helping Hands. Many single mothers (young and old) told stories of pain and sheer tragedy. When asked, "What would you say to those Christians who financially support this ministry," many of the people cried in thanksgiving. To think that our crumbs are an overwhelming gift to these people is something I can't quiet get over.

16 November 2005

We Were Made for Such More

This is from Patrick's blog (Senior Minister at the church I work for)

Invisible Children

Go to invisiblechildren.com and watch the trailer. Then order the DVD. For $20 they'll send you two of them. Watch the hour or so movie and it will change your life, if you have a heart and are paying attention. The Rochester Church has is dedicating one Wednesday night to it and many of our small groups are gathering with their neighbors to watch it. What is it?

A few young men, indistinguishable from the average sloucher or slacker you might shrug past in the mall, decided to go to Africa and film what they found there. They stumbled into the middle of child soldiers, abductions, extreme poverty, displacement, and horror upon horror. He found the Acholi people of southern Sudan who fled into Northern Uganda to escape the genocide there only to be set upon by a weird cult called the Lord's Resistance Army (look it up on Wikipedia).

For 17 years this has been going on and governments are doing nothing. So these kids are doing something. They are, first, getting peoples' attention and prayers. Second, they are dreaming big; funding a huge safe village for the children who are fleeing the terror of their lives. They are doing it one DVD at a time, one T shirt at a time, and one remembrance bracelet at a time.

Do this for me for Christmas: no presents, no cards... just watch the video, gather friends and watch it again. Sell cookies to your fellow workers or students and get them to watch it. Gather members of your congregation and watch it. Write your senators and congressman and tell them to watch it.

Care about these children. They are the most beautiful children in the world and they need you. Invisiblechildren.com ...... now.......


We're attempting to host one or two showings at the Rochester Church in the next several months as part of the Invisible Children National Campaign. We're challenging everyone to get involved, to show the video to anyone and everyone who might be interested.

This movement is taking off like wildfire. We have missionaries in Uganda who are aware of these efforts as well as former missionaries--they are conveying the same sense of urgency and need.

03 November 2005

I Just Kept Running...26.2

I've had time to process my first marathon from a few weeks back. This is straying a bit from my normal subject lines but might be appropriate for some. Here are "lessons learned" from training and running a marathon.

1. The training is more rewarding than the actual event.

2. All shapes and sizes run and finish 26.2. Don't judge a book by its cover. I got waxed by some men and women who didn't look like they grew up in West Africa in the mountains.

3. Those on the sidelines are either the greatest encouragement or extremely annoying.

4. Parts of Detroit are incredible. Parts are discouraging.

5. I found out my wife really does admire me and she's a constant encouragement. She had much for confidence in me than I did in myself.

6. My running coach and mentor, Andy Harrison, apprenticed me. He taught me how to train and prepare BECAUSE he himself had been there. One cannot take another person to a place they have never been themselves.

7. On the course, women would encourage folks with words...men encouraged with their presence. Women offered advice. Men would ask "what's your pace time?" You can run with me." And that's the extent of the conversation.

20 October 2005

Lonely People

I wonder how church marketing experts would respond to the following: one of the major cross-sections of people the Church in the West has failed are those who can legitmately be called lonely. By lonely I mean isolated, marginalized, invisible, etc.

One of my good friends (and future super theologian) recently reminded me of the lyrics from a popular artist.

Ben Folds, Fred Jones, part 2

Fred sits alone
at his desk in the dark
there's an awkward
young shadow that waits in the hall

he has cleared all his things
and he's put them in boxes
things that remind him
that life has been good

twenty-five years
he's worked at the paper
a man's here
to take him downstairs
and "I'm sorry,
Mr. Jones, it's time"

there was no party
and there were no songs
'cause today's just a day
like the day that he started

and no one is left here
that knows his first name
yeah, and life barrels on
like a runaway train

where the passengers change
they don't change anything
you get off
someone else can get on
and "I'm sorry,
Mr. Jones, it's time"

the streetlight
it shines through the shades
casting lines on the floor
and lines on his face
he reflects on the day

Fred gets his paints out
and goes to the basement
projecting some slides
onto a plain white canvas

and traces it,
fills in the spaces
he turns off the slides
and it doesn't look right

yeah, and all of these bastards
have taken his place
he's forgotten, but not yet gone
and "I'm sorry, Mr. Jones"
and "I'm sorry, Mr. Jones"
and "I'm sorry, Mr. Jones, "it's time

“The song paints a portrait of an under-appreciated, long-term employee who for too long equated what he did with who he was, and here he is on his last day struggling with feelings of insignificance in the face of the big picture of his life. Where now? What was left? Why was he even here anymore? Why didn’t anyone care? Why didn’t anyone even notice?” (N. Adam Hill).


A prayer for churches trying to resuce lonely people.

God give us your eyes. When we see the other help us to see you. When we see unimpressive help us to see your son working as a carpenter. When we see homeless help us to remember your son told us “he had no place to lay his head.” When we see poverty help us to remember that you often identified with those the world would call the least. When we encounter divorced and abused help us to bring a healing touch and soothing word. When we see the lonely help us to bring relationship and life.

11 October 2005

Making the World Better One Step at a Time

One could say there's a better more productive way to spend an afternoon. One could argue "what did you really accomplish?" One could call the time spent Sunday afternoon futile, idealistic, pie in the sky, etc.

This past Sunday, a few of us from the Rochester Church of Christ participated in Focus: Hope (Celebrating diverstiy since 1968) WALK 2005: Making a better world one step at a time, Stand up for the dignity of all people.

This event was started as a witness over and against the darkness represented on all fronts during the race riots of Detroit in the late 1960's. The riots that took place in Detroit are among the worst ever recorded in U.S. history. The walk covered an 8 mile stretch that was the epicenter of the riots. This time, black and white Christians marched in peaceful demonstration symbolzing the love, redemption, and unity that should characterize those who profess Jesus as Lord.

WALK History (see http://www.focushope.edu/news/walk.htm)

The annual walk through the streets of Detroit celebrates our rich diversity. It also raises awareness of social and economic problems that continue to haunt us. Much like the nonviolent marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Focus: HOPE WALK brings together people who believe in civil and human rights and who are committed to fighting poverty, racism, and injustice.

In the days since the 1967 Detroit riots, much has changed in the city. While you will see neighborhoods and business areas that have rebounded, you will also pass abandoned buildings and homes that are awaiting renewal. The Focus: HOPE complex has evolved to seven-building campus, with a landscaped boulevard and a new park, dedicated to the memory of co-founder Father William Cunningham (1930-1997). It stands as a testament to what people can accomplish when they work together.

The route passes a number of sites that are significant in the histories of Detroit and Highland Park.

The first Ford Motor Company automotive production facility. It opened in 1914 and drew workers from all over the country, seeking the $5 per day wages that were double what other companies paid at the time.

A pocket park on Clairmont and Rosa Parks Boulevard that marks the spot of the blind pig raided by police in 1967 that precipitated the Detroit riots.

*The original Motown recording studios.
*Headquarters of World Medical Relief.
*The elegant Boston-Edison neighborhood.

This route is the same one followed since 1988. Before then, the walk took on different forms. It began in 1970 with a three-day festival called Hope Happenings. Originally held on the Kern block and later moved to the Riverfront, the festival featured fireworks, food, music, amusement rides, and games. It drew crowds larger than the Michigan State Fair. The riverfront event evolved into the weekend ethnic festivals on Hart laza. In 1975, to mark Detroit’s 275th anniversary, the Happening became a walk, patterned after the marches led by Dr. King


Waste of time? Idealistic? Naive?

I wonder if some ancient folks in the Near East said the same thing about the mission and teaching of a carpenter from Nazareth?

04 October 2005

Mary's Song

Today, Kara and I will attend the funeral of one of Kara's lifelong best friends: Dr. Mary Morris. Kara has known Mary since she was a little girl growing up in the shadows of the mountains in Morgantown, WV. Mary worked and taught at Lipscomb University and had been battling colon cancer for well over a year.

When Kara and I moved from ACU back to Lipscomb to finish graduate school, we decided to move directly across the street from Mary's condo. Kara and Mary had a Wednesday night tradition of watching (and critiquing) "American Idol"--along with many evenings watching movies together.

One night, Mary's mother (Lois) called in a state of panic: "Mary's real sick. Could you take us to the ER?" Kara and I got out of bed and spent the next five hours in the Vanderbilt ER with Lois and Mary. We were watching our friend die right before our very eyes.

Seeing Mary's body yesterday was a numbing experience. There are no words in the English language to capture the overwhelming sense of confusion when one sees the body of a person they knew so well. A body that can no longer sigh, laugh, snicker, snap back...nothing.

The first blog I ever wrote (last year) was about Mary. Here's what I wrote.


I spent time yesterday evening with my friend who has stage 4 cancer. We talked about the parousia/heaven (coming of the Lord) and what eternity "will be like." I told her my struggle with the Platonic dualism that's invaded Christian thinking (body-bad, spirit-good) rendering many incapable of seeing the Genesis announcement by YHWH of Creation " made in his own image," and "very good."

We talked about heaven as a return to the Garden, the shalom (peace) in which God intended for us from the very start. We talked about God's longing to redeem all of Creation-leaving us fully in his presence and fully aware of ourselves. And we talked about how in this very moment we are only slivers of our true selves; that God sees us from every moment in the past and every moment in the future. This is who we are, our total identity.

"And then I saw a new heaven, and a new earth..." I'm grateful this morning for John's picture of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel in which Jesus' new body demonstrates our own pending ressurection (not reincartion) and the breath which brings forth new life (the Johannine Pentecost and Genesis 1 poetic description).

The Book of Isaiah declares that God will make all things new. This is hope for one whose body is ravaged with cancer and for her friend trying to make sense of the divine rumors seeping into our suffering world.

I have little time for theology which boasts "God needed another angel" (As if God is a child who doesn't have a sufficient amount of toys) or "Her soul has left her body and is now in heaven" (ignoring Jesus and Paul's witness of bodily ressurection).

Just before Mary died this week she came out of a coma and sang a few of her favorite hymns which declared the presence of God, not the provision. Mary, if only for a brief moment, came out of the tomb to declare something only she could see.
All of creation is in bondage, longing to be restored and remade.

I am anxious to watch Mary dance in New Jerusalem.

25 September 2005

Still Speaking of Sin?

Karl Mennenger wrote What Ever Happened to Sin? in the 70's. Barbara Brown Taylor has written a book in the recent past entitled Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation.These two books have prompted much thinking in my mind about the language of the Christian faith.

I agree with many contemporary theologians who note the "otherness" of being Christian. Some have noted that Chrisitanity is a learned pracitce; to be Christian is to learn the values, ethics, attitudes and language of the community (see Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon). To be a follower of Jesus, one must apprentice themselves to one or many people who have been living the Christian faith. NT Wright uses the piano metaphor (learning to play the right notes) while Brian McLaren uses the violinist analogy. In all of this the point is clear: The Christian faith does not come naturally to most of us. To be Christian is to be oriented to a whole new way of thinking and living; a whole new approach to seeing the world.

Taylor, in Speaking of Sin, states that "...sin might just be the last best hope of the church." Unless we understand the power of sin over creation we cannot appreciate the ways in which Jesus exposes, names, resists and defeats these cosmic powers. In fact, I encouraged our church this morning to read Romans in light of the ministry of Jesus in the scope of this divine/human drama; the battle between the powers of sin and the powers of Creator God.

Though sin has been a huge focus of evangelical churches for the last several decades, I'm not necessarily advocating more of the same company stuff. I believe we need to talk more about wider definitions of sin (racism, injusice, classism, and sexism) as well as the way in which the Old Testament and New Testament bear witness to God's interest in the communal sins of His people. Conservative Christians often focus only on the "private individual sins" as oppposed to the ways in which the darkness can hold collective groups in a hazy fog.

One need look no further than the way in which conservative churches reacted during the Civil Rights Era in the 1960's in America or the way in which a large portion of Lutherans in the middle of the 20th Century wholesale pledged themselves to the ideologies of the Thrid Reich. I am afraid to ask whether or not the contemporary church might be blind to the call of God in our American culture.

Communal sin is dangerous to the Kingdom of God. And a wider defintion of sin will prevent us from only being passionate about rated R movies, alcohol, and ....well you get the point.

Thank God, He is still pursuing us and empowering us to become more like him. "I am not the man I want to be nor the man with God's help I'll someday become--but thank God I am not the man I used to be," Martin Luther King Jr.

13 September 2005

No Longer...

Men and women gathered, this past Sunday, from all different walks of life to pray and raise money for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. People from black and white backgrounds sang prayed to their Creator for healing and divine presence. People from different neighborhoods uttered the classic words "Our God, He is Alive." African American ministers preaced with their unique cadence and pace. White ministers told their best stories of faith in the midst of joy. It was truly a time in which, if you looked close enough, Christ was present in the tears, confession, and prayers of his people.

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus," The words of St. Paul in Galatians 3:28.

The words of America's greatest preacher were on my mind throughout the entire program: "At times, life is hard, as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and painful moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of a river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of the summers and the piercing chill of its winters. But through it all, God walks with us. Never forget that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace," (Martin Luther King Jr., Eulogy for the Martyred Children, 1963).

07 September 2005

Rabbi Yeshua

NOTE: The following is based on NT Wright, Rob Bell (Nooma Videos and Velvet Jesus), and Ray Vanderlaan’s “One Focus" teaching from a National Pastors Conference held this year.

Jesus the Rabbi. One of the more compelling aspects of the Jewish world I’ve studied over the last few years is the relationship between rabbi and disciple. Jesus was often referred to as rabbi (teacher). Many have written on this subject, some on academic levels and others on more popular levels. It is thought that there were three basic divisions in the Jewish educational system in the ancient world.

1.Bet-serif. This began about the age of 6. Young boys would spend most of their time memorizing the Torah. Now, for some of us recovering legalists, we have to remember that Torah is not LAW but “teaching, instruction, the way.” The Torah is not the Ten Commandments only it is Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These young boys would be able to recite these first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Memorized! Genesis-Deuteronomy—and I thought my grad program was tough.

2.Bet-Talmud. Most boys would move into apprenticeship roles after this first level of education. But for those who showed exceptional ability some would continue in their religious studies. In this period (from 10 to 15 or so) the young men would memorize the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures: Genesis to Malachi!

3.Bet-midrash. Now the playing field gets dwindled down even smaller. After 15 or so, some men would approach different rabbis in order to become their full-time disciples. Most were turned away but some were chosen by the rabbi. Typically a young boy would latch himself to a rabbi, learning the way of a rabbi (his yoke) until he was ready to step out and become a rabbi himself. This usually didn’t happen until age 30. The point of following the rabbi is fascinating. These men do not simply desire to think like the rabbi—they want to do what the rabbi does because they want to be like the rabbi.

Now, think about this in the context of Jesus for a minute. Jesus comes along around the age of 30 and approaches some individual men who are fishermen, and tax collectors. These are not the elite these are the “he’ll do” men in the given region. They’ve been passed over at some point in the past because they didn’t have what it took to become a religious star. Jesus comes along and says, “Follow me.” Essentially he’s saying, “I think you have what it takes to become a disciple and possibly rabbi.” No wonder the men drop their nets, and ledger books to follow Jesus. Jesus believes in them. “You didn’t choose me, I chose you!”

These men will stumble to understand his teachings, the nature of the Kingdom, the purpose of the cross and the implications of the resurrection. But at the end of their fumbling, Jesus looks at them and commissions them to go into the world to make disciples of all people-regardless of region, gender, education and money. By the grace and power of the spirit Jesus sends them off to be light in the darkness. As one pastor says, “your faith may waver in God, but his faith in you is rock solid.”

29 August 2005

What is Scripture?

In class last Thursday, I gave a few options for "reading" the bible. In short, we asked the question "what is this ancient text?".

Option 1.“The Bible is a rule-book. It is the constitution of the church. It is the law that governs the body of Christ. Just as the United States Constitution governs the democracy of this country so the Bible governs the protocol, and form of the restored New Testament Church.”

Option 2.“The Bible is a collection of divine timeless principles. If you know the right tools, possess the right theology, you can mine the Bible for many timeless truths. You want to know about self-esteem, turn to the back and find related topics. You want to know about money, planning, family life—it’s all in there, mine the pages for the golden nuggets of truth you seek and whola…you’ll strike gold.”

Option 3.But what if Scripture was truly adored as the unfolding story of God at work in the totality of Creation? What if Scripture is the holy story, with God as the main actor, working at every turn and twist to redeem a Creation he called good from the beginning?


Interact with the previous three options. Good/bad, strengths and weaknesses. Share experiences from growing up in the various churches you represent, etc.


22 August 2005

Discovering the New Testament

I will be teaching a religion course at Rochester College this fall entitled "Discovering the New Testament." This blog will be one avenue for candid discussion regarding faith, politics, life, and following Jesus.

To the students of the class-here is the class description from the syllabus:

This class will seek to allow the world of the New Testament to absorb the world we find ourselves in. The class will discuss the basic features of the Christian faith as presented in the New Testament. Special attention will be given to the Gospel in relation to mission, discipleship, poverty, salvation, trinity, and the church. The class will emphasize the uniqueness of the four Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John), the various writings of St. Paul and St. John. On occasion, the class will attempt to discuss the Christian faith in light of postmodernity and major world religions. It is my desire to capture the students’ imagination and appreciation for the story of Jesus (the Gospels) and the story of the Jesus Movement (the Church). I understand the level of exposure to Christianity will be of great diversity. I will do whatever I can to assist you in making this class a powerful experience. Not only am I committed to providing pertinent information, but it is my desire for each of you to experience transformation.


Now...what is your experience with the Christian faith? Good? Bad? Indifferent? Harmful? Transformative? Fire away. Remember to be kind and respectful as we are all coming from completely different experiences.

18 August 2005

The students at Rochester College are now starting to fill up the campus. Some of the athletes are back for conditioning and training. The R.A.'s and their assistants are getting ready for the ever crazy job.

This week I was a part of a worship conference with Michael Card and a leadership conference with Randy Harris (Teaches theology at ACU). The students, however, stole the show. Many in our churches lament at the prospect of the future of our churches.

I can tell you that after 48 hours with some of these college students, the future (as well as the present) is in good hands. We had students from High Church experiences who are mature enough to appreciate the simplicity of a capella music. We had a handful of legit charismatics who, though often frustrated, are willing to share their experiences with those of us who've never heard the audible voice of God. I try to tell them that "hearing God's voice" or "seeing God's face" is not something I am consistently praying for in my life. Have we read our Bibles?

We have students with little to no religious background. Ultimately, these are the students I want to gravitate to. Not primarily because I want to seem the move from lost to saved, though I do. But because I believe many people who are indifferent to the Christian faith, or those who've outright rejected it have done so because they've been presented an counterfeit gospel.


When I was an undergrad student I rarely sought out the student who was "the other" or "invisible"--as a minister and teacher I hope I can embody what I see in the Gospels--Jesus "eating his way through his ministry" with the least; the ones on the fringe (thanks to my friend Eric for that quote).

Who are we inviting to sit at our tables?

12 August 2005

This is from Anne Lamott's book "Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith"--I find it extremely appropriate considering the pain and suffering of so many around me. Some I watch suffer from a distance, some all too close; all too personal.

It's magic to see Spirit, largely because it's so rare. Mostly you see the masks and the holograms that the culture presents as real. You see how you're doing in the world's eyes, or your family's, or--worst of all--yours, or in the eyes of people who are doing better than you--much better than you--or worse. But you are not your bank account, or your ambition. You're not the cold clay lump you leave behind when you die. You're not your collection of walking personality disorders. You are Spirit, you are love, and even though it is hard to believe sometimes, you are free. You're here to love, and to be loved, freely. If you find out next week that you are terminally ill on this bus--what will matter are memories of beauty, that people loved you, and that you loved them.


God is making all things new. God will make all things new.

08 August 2005


Every Sunday in our third service (Mosaic) at church we do communion ala the Catholic Church. Men and women of different backgrounds and experiences come forward to recieve the body and blood of Christ. Sometimes the other ministers and I pray with the body as they come; sometimes we simply affirm them with a smile or hug.

Yesterday, I held the sacraments as each person came forward. One face was old-- wisdom and hardship were ever present. Another face was timid, unsure of what exactly was happening. Yet another face, much darker than the other two, had a sense of solidarity about her. It was almost as if she felt safe to be in the presence of other seekers and followers of Jesus. Several more faces came to recieve the meal. Each one bringing a different gift; each person a different story.

Christ is found on the faces of those around us. I see so many faces everyday that I get numb to this. But there they are, unavoidable.

The waitress at the restaraunt. The man changing the oil in my car. At first glance it is just another person trying to survive the rat race. A second glance reminds me of a different reality.

I know there's much to be said about learning a person's name. But I also think there's more to be said about simply seeing a person as just that. Not a way to get ahead, get service, get a response, etc. But a person who somehow, no matter how messy it might be, bears the image of a loving creator.

05 August 2005

Gospeled People

The early church was a splintered group. Some were Jews who’d embraced Jesus as Messiah. To be followers of Jesus was to be fully Jewish. Others were Diaspora Jews (raised Jewish in Greek settings) who had embraced Jesus as the bridge between the Greek and Jewish world. And then there were Roman citizens with little connection to the Jewish faith who, by the power of God, came to believe “Jesus is Lord.”

The two great threats to the early church may resonate with our current struggle: Empire and Religious tradition. To say “Jesus is Lord” meant “Caesar is not.” It was a radical confession that reoriented one’s allegiance. Joining the church meant all other commitments were considered less or even obsolete. Second, religious tradition threatened the witness of the early church. In the early church tradition is the living faith of the dead, while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. In all things, Torah or Scripture, temple or church, children of God must remember that we worship a living God. This might change the way we read Paul, he is a missionary not a systematic theologian who lives in the ivory tower.

In reading all four gospels, it is crucial to remember that we read in order to know the author. We read the gospels as we look through a telescope: by looking in it we can see the world in ways we never imagined possible.

We can be a church who allows the gospel to read us. Let’s allow these four gospels tell us what to think, feel, and experience. Let’s permit these gospels to set the agenda for faith, evangelism, worship, and community. These gospels were written to sustain a church already in existence, already struggling with their identity as followers of Jesus. May these ancient words speak a fresh word into our open lives.

03 August 2005

Some Confessions About God's Dream

God's dream for the world is not the church. At least, I hope this is not the case. History has proven that the church, though there are some exceptions, has a track record of dirtying the water and polluting the pure vision of God's Kingdom. The church often offers a counterfeit gospel.

God's dream for the world is not the Bible. For those of us recovering fundamentalists, we need to repent of "bibliolatry"--worship of the bible (and our interpretation of it) over the God of the Universe and the Christ who embodies this God. We use the Bible as a telescope--by looking in it and through it we are pointed toward the reality of God.

God's dream for the world is not a particular political party. Take a deep breath. God is not Republican or Democrat. To marry one political ideology is to betray power of the gospel and the nature of Jesus' incarnation. To declare Jesus as Lord in the ancient world meant, in effect, you were declaring Caesar not to be Lord.

God's dream for the world is not one particular tribe. The Catholic Church is not the answer. The Protestant Church is not the answer. The fundamentalist churches in denial of being Protestant are not the answers. It is time for us to pool our thinking, theology, and efforts and cease to view each other as the enemy. Fighting battles within the Christian army is a luxury of the 1950's--this simply is not the world we live in.

God's dream for the world is Jesus of Nazareth. And though we struggle to understand him in light of the church, Bible, politics, and religious tribes he is the author of our faith. In him, we understand God as father, our mission in the world, the nature of suffering, and the conviction that God's future is greater than anything we could ever imagine.

02 August 2005

Mission or Maintenance?

How might one go about describing the difference between an institutionally minded body of Christ followers and a Kingdom oriented fellowship? Anything I write from here on out out will be surface and painting with broad strokes.

1. First, there is a difference between operation from an allegiance to the witness of Christ in history and the church as it has become. The Gopsel is God among us not Christianity.

2. Institutional loyalty is about preservation of power, status, and influence whereas Kingdom disciples are passionate about embodied truth, confession, authenticity, reconciliation and justice. This is what I mean by "mission" or "maintenance." Are our churches doing mere maintenance (changing Sunday morning around, rearranging furntiure on the Titanic) or are our churches living missionally--equipping the saints to be ministers in the numerous settings they'll find themselves in.

3. Institutional loyalty is usually the most dangerous place to be--the darkness has done its best work in institutions (Racism, oppressive governments, etc.). Bodies of people committed to the in-breaking Kingdom are not afraid to speak truth to the powers that be.

John York and Rubel Shelly has been preaching on this topic this summer at Woodmont Hills Family of God in Nashville, TN (www.woodmont.org). See the resources section to listen to the sermons. This is good for those who want to see missional church theology in a Church of Christ context. At least, what it might look like on paper or sound like in a preaching/teaching moment.

29 July 2005

Focus: HOPE

A friend of mine, Annette Vanover, is the manager/director of Focus: HOPE one of the leading voices for reconciliation in the Metro Detroit. I was pleasantly surprised to learn several weeks back that she attends the church where I'm currently on staff. After one of my sermons she came up to me and said, "I think you and I might have a lot in common." To which I wanted to say, "I doubt it very much." Little did I know prior to this conversation that she's been working for years to bridge the economic and ethnic gaps that exist in the Detroit and Metro-Detroit area.

The website for Focus: HOPE is www.focushope.edu

I think you will find their mission noble and redemptive. It makes me wonder how many other people slip in and out of our building every week who are also Kingdom lights for reasons that are pure.


For what it is worth.

Lipscomb University stepped up and made a great decision for their Presidency vacancy. I can say as a soon to be alum (as in one week) that I am excited about supporting the school, both undergrad and grad, in the future.

I know the Religion Department is probably excited as well. Lipscomb is making a move to be more Kingdom oriented and less instiution focused--this is a huge, and probably painful, step in the right direction.

23 July 2005

Mike Robinson: aka "Slim"

I am going to brag on my roommate from college for a few moments...Mike Robinson. Mike was a two time All-American basketball player at Rochester college. He's the all-time leading scorer in the history of the school and one of the best all around basketball players I've ever been around. He's an ever finer man.

When I was playing at RC with Mike, I worked for the Detroit Pistons doing camps and clinics. I worked with several followers of Jesus while employed by the Pistons--in fact, it was one of the most formative experiences I've had so far. I tried so hard to convince Mike to join the staff of camp and clinic instructors. "C'mon Mike. You get travel all over, work with the Piston players and coaching staff...it will look great on your resume."

My boss, the director of the entire program, made it known that Mike had an open invitation to join the staff. He would have been paid well and would probably be in a top-tier position had he accepted.

Mike knew what he wanted to do however. Mike wanted to completely concentrate on getting his degree (the first Robinson to get a college degree) and preparing himself to continue to play basketball professionally.

Today, Mike is a social worker for Wolverine Human Services in downtown Detroit. Mike carries 10-15 kids on his case load. He helps bring peace and stability in the lives of kids who've been plagued by chaos and deception. Sometimes Mike has to pick these kids up at their house, help them with clothes shopping, etc. He often pays out of his own pocket to feed and clothes "his kids." I joke with him that this is the group of disciples God has given him.

I spent yesterday with Mike down at the Social Services building with my father-in-law Patrick (www.tentpegs.blogspot.com), encouraging the kids and dialoguing with them one on one about their life, career dreams, talents, etc. Patrick and I are going to try and form a connection between our church (Rochester) and the work of these ministers in the trenches.

Mike could have went into many different fields. But he has the heart of servant and that heart led him to leading a group of teens who've had so many choices made to them and for them that most of us never experience. Two of the girls we spent time with yesterday recently lost their mother's to drugs and A.I.D.S....they're fifteen years old with no father figures.

Living with Mike for four years radically changed the way I look at life, Christianity, and the Gospel. My vision of Jesus was completely altered after seeing the world through Mike Robinson. He's been a dear friend for seven years now. The Kingdom breaks into my life in some of the most unexpected and unassuming ways.

Mike is a black man from the inner city and I'm a white man from the burbs. In Christ though, our bond is stronger than race, socio-economic backrgound, or ethnicity.

What Kingdom person is the LORD placing in your life?

19 July 2005

I've blogged about Brian and Lisa Cain in the past but want to bring up their work again. On Wednesday NPR is doing a feature story on their work and ministry with God's Helping Hands a ministry to the poor of Oakland County with the Rochester Church(see http://www.ghhmichigan.org/).

Brian and Lisa started a clothing and food ministry from a small room in the Rochester Church building almost 8 years ago after enduring many moments of pain and confusion in dealing with the severe illness of their son Kevin. Kevin died at a young age--the funeral was one of the most "gospel" moments I've ever been apart of.

Since Kevin's death, the ministry has become one of the great witnesses in Oakland CO. They've moved God's Helping Hands from the church to a warehouse that borders Rochester and Pontiac.

Last Wednesday, for example, GHH fed almost 80 families (not people BUT families) in 3.5 hours. We're now beginning the process of dreaming of what might be done next to expand the ministry.

Tomorrow morning, reporters from one of the most respected radio programs in the country will be interviewing Brian and Lisa. People will be coming out of the woodwork to be a part of this day. I can't help but think of all the late nights and early morning Brian and Lisa have spent at that warehouse, getting things ready, sorting through the scraps of the rich in order to bring some light into rather dark lives.

I've spent thousands of dollars on a undergraduate degree in History and an M.Div but am just now learning what it means to be an outpost of God's Kingdom in the midst of overwhelming evidence that would suggest the only Kingdom in control is the one under the direction of the principalities and powers.

18 July 2005

4 years and a few states later...

This weekend Kara and I celebrated our first year of marriage...I can't believe that the girl I was so nervous about asking to go to a movie is now my wife of one year. More than that, I can believe she actually said "yes" that hot summer day almost two years ago.

Kara and I have been on quiet an adventure. We started out "courting" long distance; while I was going to school and playing basketball in college she was at a university in Nashville. Then I moved to Nashville to do seminary (really to be closer to her...the seminary I wanted to go to was in California). Then I convinced her to move to Texas while I continued graduate studies and coached basketball at ACU for a short time. Then we moved back to Nashville right after getting married to finish our studies (at least for now). Then, you see where this is going, we moved back to Rochester so I could work at the RCC and teach religion (adjunct) at Rochester College.

I've taken Kara on a whirlwind over the last three years. We've learned a lot about eachother and even more about ourselves. It might be cliche but it is still true: the greates test of one's discipleship is the strength of their marriage.

14 July 2005


What is the Gospel?

What a great question. We've been talking about this all week in my Postmodern Theologies class with John Mark Hicks. I like the warning in Divine Conspiracy against "vampire Christianity"--the notion that Christians only want Jesus for his blood. We get Jesus' blood and then move on to Paul for the rest of consumer passions.

Think about the rich diversity of "gospel talk" in the four Gospels for instance. In Matthew, salvation is linked to the "ethical training for the kingdom of heaven"--the Rabbi shows his disciples how to live as outposts of God's future reign. In Mark, salvation is tied discipleship in a different way. Discipleship is participating in the shame (as opposed to Mel Gibson's "pain") of the cross. Those who would be a part of this New Band of Brothers/Sisters must be willing to embrace shame in light of a culture hinged on power and honor. In Luke, salvation is tied to the overturning of the dominant power systems--the poor are liberated, the capties are set free (it's not Blessed are the poor in spirit but blessed are the poor). In Luke we are introduced to a radical theology of neighbor: there is no one who is not our neighbor! In John, salvation is couched in the language of abiding in eternal life (John's word for Kingdom) and belief in "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

What is interesting to me is that the four Gospels are even more layered than what I've just presented. Each one presents a rather wholistic picture of salvation...and we haven't even gotten to Paul yet :)

I like this idea "people out of legalistic traditions need grace; people out of grace traditions need discipleship." I think that says a lot about where we're currently at in Restoration/Evangelical churches. The gospel doesn't just want to say something (our sins are forgiven) it wants us to live a certain way (we are empowered to be the Second Incarnation).

11 July 2005

Nashvegas and Downward Mobility

I'm in Nashville this week finishing up the course requirments for the M.Div. at Lipscomb. This week I'm taking a Seminar in Theology class with John Mark Hicks who one of my friends in grad school refers to as "one of the smartest men in North America." Check out his blog at http://www.professingprofessor.blogspot.com/. The class is entitled Postmodern Theologies and we're going to look at post-evangelicalism (recovering fundamentalists), postliberals (recovering liberals) and communal praxis (the people who actually take Jesus' call to discipleship seriously)...ok maybe that was a slight exaggeration.

I'm taking this class with one of my good friends Mark Manry who is also finishing up the M.Div. this summer. Mark is a member where I currently work--the Rochester Church of Christ in Michigan. Mark is about to move his entire family to Uganda to join a mission team supported by the Rochester Church. I tease Mark that he's on the fast track for "downward mobility"--he's driving the wrong way down a one way street :). Seriously, Mark has a pastor's heart and will be Kingdom blessing while he's in Uganda and when we steal him back in five years to work with us at RCC.

The Rochester Church is not a perfect church by any measuring standards but they are committed to training up their own and sending them into the world. We currently have disciples (raised up from within our church) in Eastern Europe, Brazil, Uganda (a few families), Honduras, and one training to go to the Bronx to join an ACU mission team. I know I'm forgetting someone.

Our next step???? Getting the body of Christ at Rochester to see themselves as missionaries in the setting they find themselves in. Becoming a missional church out of a comfortable evangelical worldview is no easy task. I can't imagine a more exciting project than being a part of this.

07 July 2005

Bonjour...ca va?

Not that anyone lost any sleep over this blog but I'm back bloggin again for the first time in a while. I am in the midst of getting my ministry off the ground at the Rochester Church of Christ, finishing my M.Div., serving my wife....and now a good friend (and running coach) has convinced me to train for a marathon with him. Let's just say I've been training for two weeks now and I'm incredibly soar...I know I'm being a baby.

In the future I intend to blog about

1. marriage to a wife whom I can't believe said "yes."
2. the poor
3. the Rochester Church
4. Rochester College
5. great books
6. great movies
7. great friends
8. politics
9. the Pistons
10. Running
11. The students I'll be working with at Rochester College in "Discovering the NT"
12. U2
13. Novels

I'll try to avoid postmodernity since it is the most abused word in all of contemporary christian jargon :)

To get things started, I'd encourage you check out ministry to the poor http://www.orion.lib.mi.us/ghh/home.htm

Brian and Lisa Cain (two disciples at the Rochester Church have an incredible ministry that is going to be featured on NPR in the coming weeks. I could not be more proud than to call them brother and sister.

If you are really bored here is the link to a sermon I recently preached at Rochester from Jeremiah 7. The manuscript is for speaking not neccessarily reading.
http://www.rochestercoc.org/sermonnotes.htm (click on June 12, and July 3 2005). I don't know if the multi media link is working or not for audio purposes.

I'll end with a quote from Dr. King that I'm still trying to embrace in my own life.

"I may not be the man I should be nor the man with Christ's help I will someday become, but thank God I am not the man I used to be."

20 May 2005

Kara and I are moving to Rochester, MI to work with the Rochester Church of Christ. We are excited to be working in a place that has so much potential for Kingdom growth. Kara will be doing her hospital internship requirement to be a certfied R.D.

I plan on changing the format of this blog-site. Once I get to Rochester and begin teaching adjunct at Rochester College, I'm also going to use this site for the students who will be in Introduction to the New Testament-section two.


29 April 2005


I am not going to post for awhile...I have been blown away by reading much on the Open Door Community in Atlanta, GA (see http://www.opendoorcommunity.org/)

Save the time from reading my posts (if anyone does) and the many other blogs that are out there and read what people are actually doing not simply saying.

http://www.opendoorcommunity.org/-in case you missed the link, you will be a truer disciple if you read what these disciples are up to. Though some might not agree with certian positions one would be crazy to ignore the prophetic nature of their ministry to those of us in comfortable wealthy clubs we are calling churches.

19 April 2005

Against the Powers

Charles Campbell's Word Before the Powers challenges all notions of what it means to be a Jesus follower. His conviction is that Jesus is depicted as the God ordained prophet/teacher who did everything to resist, usurp, name, and expose the "principalities and powers" of darkness. Though he is not original with this idea (none of us are by the way) his particular approach of desribing the Christian life is compelling.

In resisting the powers we are truly following Jesus and we serve as foreshadows to the full inbreaking of the Kingdom.

One section in particular really transformed me this week. In resisting the powers of darkness, even if it means marginalization and death, we beging to witness tokens of Christ's resurrection.

In my own life, these glimpses of God's Shalom have often come on the streets of Atlanta among homeless people. Several months ago, for example, I was leading worship in the front yard of the Open Door Community, a Christian community that ministers with homeless people. A group of us were standing in a circle, holding hands, praising God amid the noise of rush-hour traffic...Then, as I looked around the circle, I noticed one homeless man waiving to me and pointing to himself, indicating he wanted to do something. I was surprised when I saw him, for the man can neither hear or speak, and normally he is very reserved. But there he was, urgently waving to me, requesting to provide leadership for the worship.

I nodded to him, and he stepped into the middle of the circle. Then, after bowing his head for a few moments in silence, he began to sign a hymn for us. It was remarkable, beautiful, like a dance. And while the rest of us didn't understand all of the signs, some of them were unmistakable, like the sign for Jesus on the cross. And we all knew the Word the man proclaimed through his dance
. (pp. 123-24)

As easy as it is to name the powers at work (indiffernce, nationalism, materialism, and racism) I shudder to think of the ways in which I allow and encourage the powers and prinicipalities of darkness to ravage the ones Jesus identified with.

It is time for those of us doing theology and preaching to do theology that is concerned about the church and her witness in the world and not 3rd Century Ancient Roman bathroom construction, or depicting a God who wants to "increase our territory." Both reduce the Christian Story to a pitifall version of the Jesus on display in the Gosels and throughout the history of his church. Christ means a real and present hope for all people. Christ means change. Christ means ongoing transformation. Christ means the liberation of creation from the grip of death.
That is the music to which we all are invited to dance.

11 April 2005

My first ever blog came in the fall (I think October) about a good friend Mary Morris. Mary is the Director of Character Counts in Nashville and teaches in the Education Department at Lipscomb University.

Mary has a very dangerous form of cancer and has been battling its effects for nearly 10 months now. We are all hopeful, but we honestly have no idea what the next 2 or 3 months have in store. Yesterday, a small group of disciples gathered in a hospital holding room at Vanderbilt Hospital to praise, pray, partake of the Eucharist and listen to a short homily.

In the room: family members, two college students, the former governor of TN, many teriffic women who've made parenting an honorable vocation, several College professors and host of other people.

It is in the most Christian moments that the playing fields are leveled. Honor, power, and status mean nothing when Jesus' apprentices come together to practice authentic community. Mary spoke up and gave a stirring encouragement to us. At one point she said, "This is my family."

For me, the church is the greatest apologetic for the ressurection. Oh, I know it is also the greatest support AGAINST the ressurection as well. But in moments like the one we shared yesterday, I believe because I want to believe. You can have the ontological argument for God. You can have all of the proofs for the ressurection The Case For Christ can conjur. But me, I came to Christ and have been sustained by Him because of his dysfunctional band of brothers and sisters we call the broken body of Christ. For me, being a part of the church has been salvation through and through.

05 April 2005

A Menorah from the Pope?

I've enjoyed hearing the many anecdotes that have surfaced in regards to the life of Pope John Paul II over the last few days. Tales of his love for poetry, skiing, philosophy, and hiking. The world needs to remember that before he was the Pope, he was a man with crazy dreams about life, love, and friendship.

One story in particular came during an interview with Larry King the other night. I forget the gentleman's name, he was the Pope's official orchestra director, but he developed a unique relationship with the man. A few details are important here. One, the Pope sought this man out because he lived in the Pope's childhood town. Second, this man is Jewish.

One of the director's sons recently recieved a menorah from the 16th century as a gift from the Pope. The director said this gift was typical of the nature of their friendship. Love, acceptance, affection-some call it incarnational, some call it being Jesus. I call it true to the nature of the Gospel. Living with people in a Gospel way as opposed to convincing people that the Christian faith is the sum of its rational arguments.

One of the pastors at the church I attend noted the incarnational nature of the Pope's ministry-being among the poor, hugging them, touching, looking them in their eyes, validating their humanity, seeing them as full persons.

There is much I don't understand about highly institutionalized relgions (of which fundamentalists sometimes tend to be the worst)but I do know that God can redeem them. I think Pope John Paul II was God's activity in the life of the Church universal among the world.

01 April 2005


I spent my spring break with a group of students and one teacher (Phillip Camp) from Lipscomb in Camden, New Jersey. One of my best friends is doing his Ph.D. in Philadelphia (Westminster) and we worked with his church to somehow be good news for the six days we were there. Most people do not know this but Camden was recently voted the most dangerous city in the U.S. (U.S. News and World Report). It edged out Detroit, Houston, New York, and Los Angeles (and a few others).

Camden is actually an extension of Philadelphia--just across the river. It only has about 50,000 people. Buildings are abandoned, streets are occupied with trash. As we stood on the corner of one of the most dangerous parts of Camden I thought to myself, "This cannot be America." I've been to Trujillo, Honduras and Ocho Rios, Jamaica-but I expected poverty, despair and hunger.

Our group worked with "My Brothers Keeper"-a mission house run by a pentecostal church in which former addicts, pushers, and pimps come for food, healing, and restoration. Day by day, with prayer and community, they are made whole again. Real people with real pain. Not simply "lazy blacks/latinos" who don't want a better life. Men who've been overrun by institutional sin.

I wonder when our churches will start sending missionaries to Camden. I wonder when the churches in Korea will start sending missionaries to Detroit. Missiologists say (people who study mission contexts) that more Christians live in Asia, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe than in the West. This hasn't been the case for several hundred years.

I wonder when Christians will start to reclaim their identity as missionaries in a context that is hostile towards the claim of the gospel? Maybe those of us in vocational ministry (preachers, pastors, and counselors) should spend more time equipping the disciples than performing psychology; bad psychology at that.

Where the poor exist, Christ is present. Is the church spending time with Christ or with Caesar and the spoils of his empire?

20 March 2005

As we prepare to remember and reinact the passion of Jesus it strikes me how strange it might seem to many that a band of believers would suscribe to the following elements of the Christian faith.

1. That Jesus' cross now belongs to all of those who would dare to follow him.

2. To be Christian is to, in sense, denounce all other powers we've historically run to for identity and sustainment.

3. Life with the marginalized is not something the church plans--this is who the church is. Not because it is the natural response but because we take seriously the teachings and life of Jesus.

4. Our faith is not "successful"--it does not bring more wealth,power, or influence-- if it does it might not be the faith. Our faith is in a God who is moving the world to his own purposes. In fact, our faith looks quiet foolish when we get right down to it.


When I read the Gospels, this is the world I see it creating; a world radically different than the one we live in.

18 March 2005

Besides a few of my seminary teachers, Barbara Brown Taylor has challenged my faith in ways I cannot explain. Here is an excerpt from The Preaching Life I used on Sunday at Woodmont Hills. She is a poet who writes as if words still matter a great deal.

God is not through with us yet. At our worst moments, both individually and corporately, we act as if that were so. We act as if creation had all been finished a long, long time ago, and encased in glass, where we may look at it through the grime of centuries but may not touch. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Holy Spirit still moves over the face of the waters, God still breaths life into piles of dust, Jesus still shouts us from our tombs. The deep river of revelation still runs strong from the fresh headwaters of its source to its jewel-encrusted banks in the heavenly city, with power to drench our dry days along the way. (From The Preaching Life)

The Spirit still moves over the face of the waters...blowing wherever it pleases.

08 March 2005

For Those Who Have No Voice

Part of my grad school experience has been sub teaching with the Metro Public School System. This of course is about paying Lipscomb, not some kind of “ministry training experience.” Recently I taught at risk at a large, well-known high school here in downtown Nashville. Vanderbilt sends a child-therapist over every Thursday to help these at risk kid’s deal with anger, depression, and hatred. Some of them talked about their fears of all the gangs-the BP’s, KP’s, Crips, Bloods, and KKK. After a few minutes of this, the therapist got the young men and women to talk about their personal lives. One young boy, a talented artist, spoke of not ever knowing his father. His mother works three jobs to pay the bills for him and his brother. He wants to drop out of school so his mother “don’t have to work to the bone every day and night.” A young girl sat next to him. She is 17 and has a two-year old daughter. She spoke of her hatred for her father. She said she wished he would disappear from her life. Said it would be better to deal with an absent father than an abusive father. Her mother doesn’t work and makes her take care of the house, her three younger siblings, plus her own two-year old daughter. The boyfriend/father is kept in the picture because “he got money and that’s the only thing I got going for me right now.”

Next to her sits a young African American male. He is shy but intelligent. He is not confident enough to look the therapist in the eye. After a few moments of prodding, he talks about the rage he keeps inside towards his mother. Seems she no longer wanted to be around. He’s never seen a picture of his father, let alone met him. One day, a few years ago, she dropped him off at his Aunt’s house and no one has heard from her since. He asks through his tears, “Why you think my momma don’t want to be around me?” The last girl at the table speaks up after a few moments of silence. She is a talent on the basketball floor, I’m later told. Last year, her mother (her idol) was killed by a drunk driver. No father to comfort her. Just like that-her life is flipped upside down. She lives with different family members, bouncing from house to house, grinding it out day by day.

I enjoy the various theories of the Atonement. Propitiation, reconciliation, justification, liberation—all the words that we wrestle with. But I’m challenged by the notion that all theories of the cross-its meaning for the church must be relational and communal. We cannot stay in the courtroom mentality, walking around declaring, “Aren’t we fortunate to have been forgiven.” Only to return back to life as usual. The Gospel knows nothing of life as usual. The Gospel is a revolution that is supposed to turn everything upside down-all aspects of life in the here and now. Most importantly the cross must change the way we think about those we live with and amongst. If Christ speaks on our behalf, is he not relying upon us to speak for those with no voice? The ones who’ve been dealt an UNO hand at the poker table. Does the cross not demand that we get over ourselves, our way of being Christian to follow Jesus as light into every dark corner of society? If God’s mercy does not cause us to be merciful, is it really the gospel that we’ve been claiming all along?

16 February 2005

Speaking of Sin

It is all around us. At every turn, in every corner and in every place, high or low, sin is present in our world. It is easy to see its effects in the world around us if we’d just pay attention long enough to hear the voices of those being crushed under its oppressive force. In Africa, H.I.V. and A.I.D.S. are killing young people by the hundreds of thousands. In the Sudan, Muslims are slaughtering Christians, and Christians are returning the favor. The genocide is rooted in their tribal narratives- each is convinced that the other one initiated the mass murder. Each tribe is convinced God is on there side. Russia still hasn’t recovered from the painful transition of Communism to Democracy. For many, life has gotten worse. In China, it is estimated that there are close to 6 million missing women since the government sanctioned limit to children went into place. In other eastern countries, women are abandoned, aborted, or sold into sex slavery rather than be raised in the family in which they were conceived.

If we look a little closer to home, we know the consuming nature of sin. We’ve experienced it first hand. For some, institutional racism has gone underground making it more dangerous than fifty years ago. For others, life in a family of alcoholics has killed every ounce of life left after a childhood of broken dreams and broken bones. Nashville, the alleged belt buckle of the Bible belt, is one of the most racially divided cities in America. White, Black, Hispanic, and Middle Easterners know which part of the city is theirs, which schools, which neighborhoods, in which churches they are welcome. Sin is everywhere. If we’d just look, we would see it staring us right back in the eyes.

But we don’t have to go looking for sin do we? There’s enough messiness and rebellion in our churches at this very moment to talk about for ages. In the name of religion, many of you have been dehumanized and in the name of particular arrogance we have returned the favor. “Some of the worst things that will happen to you in life will either come from your physical family or church family,” (William Willomon).

Does the gospel have the power to transform this dark reality?

21 January 2005

Weeping for Katie

The first time I met Katie I was struck by several things. She was a beauty with few rivals. She was sharp, witty, with a refreshing sense of humor. She listened to people when they talked. She looked you in the eye, smiled and processed your own words, ideas, and life stories. She was not your typical beautiful girl. There was much to her. Too much for any one person to know.

I remember a prayer group (which she was a faithufl member) we held at my apartment my senior year of college. The two hours was filled with laughter, tears, deep questions, etc. Near the end, someone asked Katie to pray. I could not help but thinking "There is something inside her that is eternal, something so good."

A few months after this, we learned that Katie had a rare form of brain cancer. She's been battling for the last two plus years. She rode with Lance Armstrong to raise money for research. Last week, she literally picked herself off of the deathbed to marry her highschool sweetheart. Five days later (yesterday) she stopped breathing.

She's still alive to be sure, though in a form I cannot prove. Today, the Rochester College community mourns for the families, friends, and parents of Katie. "It seemed to me, you lived your life like a candle in the wind."

For all who have been ravaged by the chaos, disciples around the planet join you in your suffering and long for the day when this reality will pass away; when God will make all things new.

Please visit www.katiekirkpatrick.com for the life narrative of Katie.

15 January 2005

Following Jesus isn’t easy. I used to think it was. I used to think this religion thing was a piece of cake. Go to church a few times a week. Smile a lot and learn the right vocabulary, “good to see you”, “if I was any better I’d be you”. Any thinking person can jump into this culture and learn the jargon and the right ritual activity. Youth group activities, small group devo, Sunday afternoon trip to the nursing home…but only once a month…we have plenty of men to do the other Sundays. Easy. I thought being a follower of Jesus was like being an American. All I had to do was fulfill a few duties, a sorted amount of responsibilities: pay taxes, attend a Fourth of July party, memorize and repeat the pledge, love sports (after all sports is our true religion), listen to country music, partake of apple pie, wave a flag, know the Presidents from 1950 on, and, of course, remember the words to the Star Spangled Banner. See, that’s easy. Make a list, execute the list on a semi-regular basis and there I am-- a good ol’ American patriot. Now that’s a simple list.

Then I did a terrible thing several years back—I read the Gospels. I know, I know, why would someone who’d been raised in church his entire life (by a preacher no less) do a thing like that? Well, I figured that I should know why it was I told the church one balmy Michigan Sunday “I believe that Jesus is the son of God and I will follow him from this point forward. I choose to be baptized.” That’s quiet a confession you know. This isn’t just signing up for boy scouts, trying out for the football team: When I started thinking about it, this is a scary proposition. I’d rather be a fan of God. Jesus could be the mascot, the church could be the audience, and then I’d get my religious fix for the week. Or I could be an admirer of Jesus, reading a lot of books about him, learning more theological language to prove my spirituality. Or, better yet, I could become a believer of Jesus. I could memorize all the important passages (“for God so loved the world…”)—you know the good stuff. I’d have all the right answers. After all, having answers is easier than practicing sacrifice.

But when I read the Gospels, I realize there is cost of following Jesus. A young rich man who graduated suma cum laude from Vanderbilt approaches Jesus and declares his desire to join the movement. Jesus, to our surprise, tells him he’s not ready. “You don’t know what you’re getting into. You want to really be a part of this movement? Sell everything you have and give the profit to the poor. Only then will you be ready and fit to be a part of my new religion.” Ouch. So much for seeker sensitive.

I think this is why Jesus chose to speak in rabbinic parables, a familiar form of teaching with intentional, brief stories. Jesus knew the difficulty of the Kingdom message he uttered, and so he taught in a way the people could capture the cost.

10 January 2005

Father Joe

Tony Hendra has recently written a spiritual autobiography entitled Father Joe (www.tonyhendra.com). The book (ala Tuesdays With Morrie)is filled with power, grace, and wisdom. It is unapologetically authentic about faith, and all the monsters that come with such a journey.

Father Joe (a Benedictine monk) is Tony's friend, spirutal guide, and replacement father. Through substance addictions, loneliness and promiscuity, Father Joe remains the calm, truth-telling voice in a life filled with apparent success.

I'm not going to write anything (for real write) until much later in my life. Until then I will encourage others to read people like Tony Hendra who understand the complexity of the journey, the paradox that is "believing what is unseen to be more real that what is seen."

My father, unlike Tony's biological father, has always been open, honest, and humble. He is the hardest worker I know and the last one to ever tell you about it. He is a hero to his wife, three children, and one grandchild. But not the hero you might expect. A hero who goes unnoticed, unassuming. Steady as the seasons in Kentucky, my dad is a pure picture of what it means to be in Christ.

For Father Joe's (and Phil's) living every day with others on there mind, thank-you from those of us who are still addicted to our own lives. The ones who are convinced that this play called life stars us as the main actor, the center of the universe.