30 October 2007


Click here to read an essay I recently wrote for Wineskins Magazine. This essay discusses the relationship between what happens on Sunday morning (corporate worship) and mission (living our lives as "worship before God") using New York City as a case study of sorts.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts and critique. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the essay? Remember that dialog is the path to true understanding.

There are other great articles in this issue including a great interview with Brian McLaren. Props to GT (Greg Taylor) for being an outstanding editor; for helping me find my own voice.


Some words from one of America’s best preachers and teachers, Barbara Brown Taylor:

“…that Jesus’ ministry with the poor, the prisoners, the blind and broken victims is first and foremost a ministry of words. Jesus has been anointed to preach, to proclaim, the good news of release, recovery, sight, liberty. He will, incidentally, do those things before he is through, but from the beginning his ministry is not a ministry of doing but a ministry of saying—what God has done, what God is doing, what God will do. Everything that happens in Jesus’ ministry happens after proclamation and because of it, because the speaking of God’s word is how the world began and how it goes on beginning, nourished and healed and strengthened by the strong medicine of the gospel.

…That is how it has been working for almost two thousand years. That is how a Galilean who spent his entire life in a country no bigger than New Jersey became known around the world—all because people talk.” (BBT in Gospel Medicine)

* * *

Speaking of words. I was trying to come up with expressions and synonyms I could conjure for “money”--what am I missing?

Money, cash, dough, chedda, change, jack, cheese, bling, Benjamins, cashola, pound, francs, yen, peso, cred, loot, and paper.

29 October 2007

Baseball, Adventure, and the Titanic

Three thoughts from the World Series. First, Boston won five of the first fifteen World Series at the onset of Major League Baseball. In the last eighty-nine years (or thereabouts) they’ve won a grand total of two. Second, from 2004 until present day, the losing team in the World Series has won a grand total of 1 game. The Red Sox swept the Cardinals in 2004. TheWhite Sox swept the Astros in 2005. The Cardinals won in five against the Tigers, and the Rex Sox swept the Rockies in 2007. That’s an amazing statistic. Last, why do we still call it a world championship, when a MLB, NBA, or NFL team wins their American championship? Is it truly a world championship?

I viewed the film, Into the Wild, on Friday night. It’s an amazing film. It is a bit slow in parts but the story line is excellent. I wish I would’ve read the book first because the book is always, always, always, better than the movie (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Cold Mountain, Band of Brothers—just to name a few). My favorite line from the film, "I'm going to paraphrase Thoreau, 'Trust, forgiveness, passion, beauty, justice, reason are wonderful. I desire truth.'" That's my paraphrase.


I remembered a sad but true story this weekend from my marathon training of two years ago. I was running in THE CRIM, a big race in the Flint area in prep for the 26.2 miles I was about to endure less than two months later. Upon the last major stretch of the ten mile race, I stumbled (not literally) upon a sad metaphor which captures the state of some of our American churches.

After several churches passed out water, food, gel boosters, etc, I came upon a church that decided during a grueling race that they would contribute to the running experience by blessing the runners with a barrage of hymns.

That’s right. No water, Gatorade, granola bar, or slice of an orange—this church brought “God is So Good” and “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”

While others were meeting the needs, they brought hymns to the party.

I suppose that’s not completely bad for music is powerful. I simply wonder if that’s not a scary parallel to the way some churches still function. While divorce, H.I.V., S.T.D’s, depression, and poverty wage war, some stand on the top deck of the Titanic blessing each other with hymns.

28 October 2007

Potter (part deux)

If the Harry Potter pot wasn't stirred enough last time, here's an interesting article on "Searching Truth in Harry Potter." The author is a former missionary to West Africa.

What do you think?

What are the strengths of her arguments? What are the weaknesses or inconsistencies?

UPDATE: Wade has an interesting article on his blog discussing whether or not Harry Potter is a Christian!?

25 October 2007

The Power of Confession

Donald Miller got a crazy idea when he was a college student to put up a confession booth on the secular and anti-Christian campus of Reed College. His timing was a bit awkward for he wanted to do this during Ren Fayre, a time of drinking, drug use, and orgies. Instead of asking other students to confess their sins (something Christians are curiously good at), Miller led the experiment by offering a confession of his own sins, as well as the past sins of Christianity.

You never question the truth of something until you have to explain it to a skeptic. I didn’t feel like being in the booth or wearing that stupid monk outfit. I wanted to go to the rave. Everybody in there was cool, and we were just religious.

I was just going to tell Tony that I didn’t want to do it when he opened the curtain and said we had our first customer.

“What’s up, man?” Dude sat himself on the chair with a smile on his face. He told me my pipe smelled good.

“Thanks,” I said. I asked him his name, and he said his name was Jake. I shook his hand because I didn’t know what to do, really.

“So, what is this? I’m supposed to tell you all of the juicy gossip I did at Ren Fayre, right?” Jake said.


“Okay, then what?” What’s the game?” He asked.

“Not really a game. More of a confession thing.”

“You want me to confess my sins, right?”

“No, that’s not what we’re doing, really.”

“What’s the deal, man? What’s with the monk outfit?”

“Well, we are, well, a group of Christians here on campus, you know.”

“I see. Strange place for Christians, but I am listening.”

“Thanks,” I told him. He was being very patient and gracious.” Anyway, there is a group of us, just a few of us who were thinking about the way Christians have wronged people over time.”

After haggling over the intent, Jake finally began to understand. The conversation took a serious turn once Jake realized that this was a life-giving proposition.

“So, you are confessing to me!” Jake said with a laugh

“Yeah. We are confessing to you. I mean, I am confessing to you.”

“You’re serious.” His laugh turned to something of a straight face.

I told him I was. He looked at me and told me I didn’t have to. I told him I did, and I felt very strongly in that moment that I was supposed to tell Jake that I was sorry about everything.”

After confessing for a good while, Jake became empowered. His passion increased with each passing second.

“It’s all right, man,” Jake said, very tenderly. His eyes starting to water.

“Well,” I said, clearing my throat, “I am sorry for all of that.”

“I forgive you,” Jake said. And he meant it.

The two talked for a little longer about the essence of the Christian story and Donald shared with him the Gospel message and Jake told all of his friends that they needed to visit the Christians in the confession booth. I can just imagine that conversation, “You won’t believe what those Christians are up to now!”

23 October 2007

Random Marriage Story

One of my favorite aspects of being married (to Kara) are the humorous moments shared between husband and wife. Most are best kept between each other.

However, occasionally, an experience happens that is too good not to share with friends.

Last night, about midnight, a large section of our bedroom window fell off just missing my face by a few inches. Kara was completely asleep. I had just dozed off. I thought someone was breaking into our house. I jumped out of bed, ready for drama. My heart pounded. Adrenaline flowed throughout my entire body.

After a few seconds of being dazed and confused, I realized I'd been the victim of laziness. We just had new windows put in and Kara did not properly seal one of the panels over the top of the window.

Kara woke up from a deep sleep to utter these words under the emotion of great giggling, "I was afraid that might happen."

And with that, she laughed so hard, I could not help but laugh myself.

When I came home from work, the panel was still lying next to bed. Taunting me. Mocking me.

22 October 2007


I've spent time in Malibu the last two years at the Pepperdine Lectureships. My time at Pepperdine University has been a time of refreshment, encouragement, and sabbath.

Tonight, I'm praying for those people being ravaged and undone by the fires sweeping from L.A. to San Diego.

This is a photo one student took from Pepperdine.
My friend, James Wiser has been blogging about the unfolding events. James works at Pepperdine.
Pray for Malibu. Pray for Pepperdine. Pray for mercy.


Rochester Church of Christ:

It was truly great to be with yer on Friday night for the little fall shindig. Leaving the ranch was good for me. I could not believe how many of you said you'd supported me in my last two elections. My strategery is working.

Yours Truly,

George W. Bush

20 October 2007


I told this story before. I've been working on a writing project that made me think of this story again. The story won't leave me alone. One, because it's funny. Two, because it exposes my worldview. By the way, this story, in no way, is intended to undermine or downplay the importance of authentic professional counseling.

* * *

This past year, I went to lunch (because lunch is the most spiritual part of my day) with two friends and an acquaintance, Jeff Patton. Jeff is a hard guy to describe. Prophet is really the only word I know that comes close. Jeff talked about a lot of things with us over chips and salsa and quesadillas. Everything from preaching to politics, immigration to the recovery process of clergy post seminary (moving from experts to pastors). At one point in the conversation, Jeff quipped: “Did you know the ten largest churches in the world are not in the West? They are in places like China, South Korea, Peru, and West Africa? Here in the U.S. we are impressed is a church can get a thousand people into a building on a Sunday morning. In some of these churches (which are located in the margins—my word) they have tens of thousands meeting several times a week in homes, underground and above.”

After sipping on some (ok, a lot of) Dr. Pepper, Jeff turned to me and said:“Imagine this scenario. A man walks into your office completely at the end of his rope, he’s hit rock bottom. His annual salary, before losing his job, was $250k. In a span of 30 days, this man spent over $100k on alcohol, gambling, and food. That’s one hundred thousand dollars… His wife left him and took their children. He’s lost his house, cars…everything and now lives on the streets and in shelters sorting rags for $25 a week. This guy walks into your office and tells you this information, how would you respond?”

I thought for a minute, cutting through all the weak answers I could offer. One person at the table chimed in, “I’d tell him to call someone who cares.”I immediately felt something inside saying, “Ok, that’s not the best answer.”So, I attempted to respond to my prophetic peer.

I took my turn next.“I would ask him if he wants to stop drinking.” I come from a family where alcohol addiction has been talked about openly. I know the first rule to addiction is that the addict has to desire change. “If he’s serious about changing, then I can help him.”

The third person at the table declined to speculate.

Jeff abruptly responded, “You all are such Westerners. I asked my friend from Africa (who's a pastor) what he would do and he said he’d grab the man right then and there in the office and start praying that God would release his soul from the bondage and captivity that was oppressing him. I don’t care if he wanted me to or not. I’m a Christian and I believe in the power and authority of Jesus.”

He continued much to my dismay.“So, the next time this guy came into my office, that’s what I did.” Apparently this was a real situation! “I grabbed him and started praying for the Holy Spirit to invade his life and create transformation, real change.”

“What happened?”“I grabbed the guy as hard as I could, hanging on to him, praying with passion and fervor.”“

Then what?” I was quite the reporter.

“He ran screaming into the night.”


“But you see…it’s not about being successful, it’s about being faithful.”

19 October 2007

Trunk or Treat

Which costume is the most humorous for a man to wear to a church "fall gathering?"

Papa Smurf (with blue skin and all that comes with being a smurf)?
Hillary Clinton?
George W. Bush?
Andy (as in Raggedy Ann and Andy)?
The Man Who Invented the Internet (Al Gore)?
Jose Canseco?

17 October 2007

Ok. So people have opinions about Harry Potter. Who knew?

I’m curious to know what books impacted you growing up as a young person? Here are some of the books I remember.

Ramona Quimby (the whole set)
The Mouse and the Motorcycle
(I was really young)
Choose Your Own Adventure
Huck Finn

Which books shaped your mind as a young person? Here, I’m thinking of between the ages of 5-10.

15 October 2007

Harry Potter and John Yoder

I'm late to the Harry Potter party. I finally gave in and read the first one this past week. Rowling is an excellent writer. I'm glad I finally gave in to Kara's prompting.

What is about Harry Potter that has everyone so intrigued? First, Rowling's creativity is unprecedented for modern popular work. C.S. Lewis once wrote, in an essay, that the chief sin of modernity was its war against the imagination of adult Westerners. Harry Potter dares the reader to see things upside down and sideways. Second, Harry Potter is a story of good and evil and we, as humans, seem to be drawn towards stories with clear heroes and obvious villains. We want to know that are lives are a part of some larger cosmic struggle. Third, people are drawn to Harry Potter because they need a person like Harry Potter to exist (common but virtuous, daring, and powerful). Potter is not superman per se, but he is a normal teen with limitless potential. Deep down we all want to believe that we can become more than we already are. Fourth, in Potter (at least the first novel but I'm guessing this is true all the way to the end)...love wins. Power, greed, deception, and even magic have their limits. But love breaks through the barriers and limits...love always wins.

That some Christians refuse to allow their children to ready Harry Potter is beyond me.


I have found this quote from Yoder to be one of the most succinct statements concerning Jesus in all of New Testament scholarship.

Jesus was not just a moralist whose teachings had some political implications; he was not primarily a teacher of spirituality whose public ministry unfortunately was seen in a political light; he was not just a sacrificial lamb preparing for his immolation, or a God-Man whose divine status calls us to disregard his humanity. Jesus was, in his divinely mandated prophethood, priesthood, and kingship, the bearer of a new possibility of human, social and therefore political relationships. His baptism is the inauguration and his cross is the culmination of that new regime in which his disciples are called to share. Hearers or readers may choose to consider that kingdom as not real, or not relevant, or not possible, or not inviting; but…no such slicing can avoid his call to an ethic marked by the cross, a cross identified as the punishment of a man who threatens society by creating a new kind of community leading a radically new kind of life (The Politics of Jesus).

12 October 2007

Bronx, Teaching

Going into ministry, I knew I would not become a wealthy man, though, by global standards, I know that is not really true.

There are aspects of my work, however, that I would not trade for a six-figure salary, or an expensive home in the Hamptons

Today, I received a letter from a young man from New York. “Sam” (we’ll call him) is incarcerated at the moment. I met him two years ago when I spent time with the Bronx Fellowship Church in The Bronx, NY. Here’s a snippet of the letter from “Sam” (exactly as he wrote it):

Whats up Josh. I hope you remember me. Well your might know already but yeah I’m locked. I been trying to do good and trying to change. I don’t what to do the same things I was doing when I was out. I started to smoke and drink. I stop going to school and started hustling. Yeah “Kathy” gave me you address because she said that if I needed some information you could help me with it (Here he’s referring to college). I do want to get out from the city. I want to go to college for architecture. I also want to take art classes and scripture. So yeah how you guys been? I hope you guys are doing good. I be home before Christmas and I hope to see you guys again, I don’t got much to say

P.S. I would like to hear back from you.

I’m going to write “Sam” a note of encouragement this week. If you would like to write him and let him know that there are people praying for him all over the United States, let me know and I’ll get you his information. The more people who witness to God’s power and love, the better his chances are for making this critical transition. This is one example of blogs serving as a redemptive force in our culture.


Today, in my Introduction to Christian Faith, I walked them through basic theological background information comparing the four Gospels of the New Testament. After having talked about the differences between the four gospels (point of view, emphasis, theological narrative, claims about Jesus, chronology of events in the life of Jesus, etc.) one student raised his hand and said, “But that is just more proof to me concerning the person of Christ. Four different accounts that testify to his divinity and power.” It’s moments like those when you think, “Ah ha…they are getting this.”

We concluded by talking about the focus of each Gospel. Here were the titles I gave them.

Matthew: Training for the Kingdom
Mark: The Suffering Messiah
Luke: Upside-Down Religion
John: When God Moves into the Neighborhood
Friday afternoon, 130pm to 3pm. I and 45 students were able to talk passionately about the life and teachings of Jesus. Is this a great country or what?

11 October 2007

Spiritual Disciplines

Lauren Winner makes the following observation regarding spiritual disciplines in Mudhouse Sabbath.

Jews do these things with more attention and wisdom not because they are more righteous nor because God likes them better, but rather because doing, because action, sits at the center of Judaism. Practice is to Judaism what belief is to Christianity. That is not to say that Judaism doesn’t have dogma or doctrine. It is rather to say that, for Jews, the essence of the thing is a doing, an action. Your faith might come and go, but your practice ought not waver…This is perhaps best explained by a midrash (a rabbinic commentary on a biblical text). This midrash explains a curious turn of phrase in the Book of Exodus: “Na’aseh v’nishma,” which means “we will do and we will hear’ or ‘we will do and we will understand,” a phrase drawn from Exodus 24, in which the people of
Israel proclaim “All the words that God has spoken, we will do and we will hear."

The word order, the rabbis have observed, doesn’t seem to make any sense: How can a person obey God’s commandment before they hear it? But the counterintuitive lesson, the midrash continues, is precisely that one acts out God’s commands, one does things unto God, and eventually, through the doing, one will come to hear and understand and believe. In this midrash, the rabbis have offered an apology for spiritual practice, for doing (Mudhouse Sabbath ix-x).

The most meaningful spiritual disciplines in my life are: exercise, tithing, working with the poor, weekly confession, sabbath-keeping, and reading.

What are the disciplines in your life that create space for the presence of God?

08 October 2007

Nashville, Washington D.C.

This weekend’s ZOE Conference might have been the best ever. The missional focus is exactly what the Spirit is doing in the larger Christian world (both domestically and globally).

One of the great joys and privileges of the last two years, has been working with the leaders and visionaries of ZOE. It is, without question, one of the best things we do in our little corner of the world—the Churches of Christ. In teaching at ZOE, I’ve shared wonderful conversations full of wisdom, pain, testimony, and insight.

I leave such weekends feeling pretty confident that a portion of Churches of Christ are positioned to do ministry in the coming religious climate. By “portion” I don’t necessarily mean the churches that would be a part of ZOE events. For some of the most missional (working with the poor, etc.) churches I know are, from my denomination’s perspective, conservative.

If you’ve never gone, they are having events this upcoming year in Searcy, Dallas, Fresno, Malibu, Tulsa, and Nashville.

On another note. Along with a group of pastors and Rochester College administrators, I was a part of a dialog session with one of Michigan’s Congressman this morning. The forum was an informal but spirited discussion about the issues that churches are passionate about.

Several good questions were raised and several statements were made ranging from Michigan's economy to the War in Iraq.

My question went something like this.

It is hard for some of us not to be cynical about the way in which America prioritizes involvement in other nations of the world. For instance, some have suggested that if oil was discovered in Northern Uganda (Gulu) or Darfur, the United States might suddenly being interested in the genocide that’s been plaguing this region for several years. How does government prioritize its involvement in humanitarian issues (which Iraq was advertised to be in the beginning)?

If you could, in-person, ask your Congressman one question; if you could make one statement to your Congressman—what would it be? And no, you can't ask if he/she has special powers to help the Lions prevent another debacle.

03 October 2007

Motown Healing Service

Last night, I attended a healing service at a local church. I went with a friend whom I deeply respect. He’s on a journey right now; a journey that, as his pastor and friend, begs my participation.

So, we jumped in his car and drove to the gathering of 50 plus Christians in suburban Detroit.

I’ve been to several other healing services before. Pentecostal. Catholic. Evangelical. I’ve seen it all. At least “all” in the American context. Some of the experiences were profound and powerful. Some were downright depressing and sinister.

Back to last night.

We walked into the church building around 7:00 p.m. The room was already full. The “healing pastor” (a position my church does not currently have) gave testimonies about tinnitus being healed, carpal tunnel syndrome quieted, autism defeated. In no way was this minister trying to bring honor or glory to himself. He was genuinely interested in asking a dangerous question, “How is God working in the world today?” People offered real stories of deliverance.

The pastor of healing taught us that God heals people in four ways. First, God heals through the Word (Scripture). God heals through anointing. God heals through word of knowledge (prophetic gifts). And last, God heals through prayer.

The funniest moment of the night came when the healing pastor asked if anyone in the room had emphysema. One man raised his hand in violent affirmation.

“I have emphysema.”

“How long have you had emphysema,” asked the healing pastor?

“I’ve had emphysema my whole life.”

At this point, I'm thinking, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it impossible to have emphysema one’s entire life?

Regardless, the entire room prayed for this man whose lungs were full of disease. I held both hands out in faith. “God, heal our brother.”

I don’t know if I believe that God works the same as the healing pastor believes . I’ve buried enough friends in my young life to know that some people don’t get healed; some get worse.

I believe that God works in powerful ways. I believe he sometimes chooses to heal people. I also know that God does not honor every request. One thing I know for certain…God is not a cosmic vending machine granting our every wish.

Nonetheless, I’m grateful there are church’s which challenge my practical atheism.

01 October 2007

Eat This Book

If you struggle reading the Bible, I have the book for you. It might be because you are no longer enamored with the stories. You might find the language difficult. The bridge between "then" (a.k.a. "In biblical times) and "now" might be too long a journey.

Eugene Peterson (author of The Message, superb translator, theologian and a "pastor’s pastor") has written a provocative, easy-to-read (I read it in a plane ride) guide. The book has an unusual title, Eat This Book.

Here are a few excerpts.

On exegesis (wrestling with the meaning of Scripture):

“..exegesis is an act of love. It loves the one who speaks the words enough to want to get words right. It respects the words enough to use every means we have to get the words right. Exegesis is loving God enough to stop and listen carefully to what he says. It follows that we bring the leisure and attention of lovers to this text, cherishing every comma and semicolon, relishing the oddness of this preposition, delighting in the surprising placement of this noun. Lovers don’t take a quick look, get a ‘message’ or a ‘meaning,’ and then run off and talk endlessly with their friends about how they feel.”

On the paradox of Scripture:

“We are fond of saying that the Bible has all the answers. And that is certainly correct. The text of the Bible sets us in a reality that is congruent with who we are as created beings in God’s image and what we are destined for in the purposes of Christ. But the Bible also has all the questions, many of them that we would just as soon were never asked of us, and some of which we will spend the rest of our lives doing our best to dodge. The Bible is a most comforting book; it is also a most discomforting book. Eat this book; it will be sweet as honey in your mouth; but it will also be bitter to your stomach. You can’t reduce this book to what you can handle; you can’t domesticate this book to what you are comfortable with. You can’t make it your toy poodle, trained to respond to your commands.”

From lectio divina, to background information regarding the formation of the canon—this book is one of the better introductions for the all-too-often-ignored task of reading the Bible. Or...as Peterson would say, the task of allowing Scripture to read me.