TBT: Benedictine Spirituality

In January, I did a two day spiritual retreat at a Benedictine Monastery and came back invigorated for the coming season.

I’ve done many spiritual retreats before, but never one so structured and “other” than what I was used to.  The Benedictines practice the daily office – a rhythm of 7 worship gatherings a day (starting at 4:50am!  Youzers) and they sing Gregorian chant style.

A few observations:

– Monastic life has no parallel in the protestant tradition.  It is distinctly Catholic and was a reminder of just how wide and diverse God’s Kingdom is.

– 4:50am.  Are you kidding me?  It felt crazy, until I came into a beautiful candlelit chapel, chanted 3 psalms in a row and sang inviting God’s guidance, protection and presence this day.  It was the right start to avoid the usual mental “to do” list.

– Benedictine spirituality incorporates repetition and physicality that protestants lack.  3 or 4 times per service, 7 times per day, we bowed and sang, “Glory be to the Father, to his Son Jesus and to the Spirit who resides in our hearts. Amen.”  We sang this at the end of every Psalm and every Hymn.  We sang it in a bowing position to show our subservience to God.  A powerful experience, proclaiming allegience well over a dozen times a day, while bowing down.

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Kevin Colón on Disappointment and Sabbath

Lately at each church staff meeting, we invite a guest speaker to unload some wisdom on us.  This week we hosted Kevin Colón, one of my good friends and one of the most intentional people I know. He spoke on relationships, how disappointment can build intimacy and how his family practices Sabbath in a fast paced culture.   Here is a summary of what he brought

On Disappointment: 
Every relationship we have, including our relationship with God gives us something and/or we give something to and they all have one common denominator: disappointment.
We disappoint others and we are disappointed by others and of course, the same with God. Our ability to process that disappointment can lead to a deeper intimacy in that relationship.
At Kevin’s first meeting with a mentor the mentor opened with, “Well Kevin, first up, I will disappoint you and you will disappoint me.” He was very clear about his humanity.
We have to embrace the fullness of what it means to be disappointed and to disappoint each other, God etc.
Questions to process disappointment:
“Lets go back over the last X years and look at all the disappointments – with each other, with God.  What were our hopes?  What hope was lost?  What does God have to say about it?  What do we say to each other about this?”
Asking what God would say helped shaped what we would then say to each other. It drove how to pray with each other.
Disappointment and hurt can be generated because of the way we file memories and experiences in our mind. Processing disappointment can be a chance to “refile” into the right place of our mind.
The gift you can give each other is openness to disappoint and lost hope.  This keeps your heart tender and fresh for what might come next.
Northumbria Community has a rule of life, like the Benedictines, but their rule is simple:  availability and vulnerability toward God and each other.
This process is important because the key task of a christian leader is putting our heart out there, exposed every day to be available and vulnerable.

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The War on Christmas


Just a brief historical reminder from your friendly local pastor….

The war on Christmas is real. Here’s what happened:

In the days of Caesar Augustus, when Herod was King of the Jews, a baby was born to the most unlikely parents you could imagine: a teenage single mother and her confused, but incredibly honorable fiancé. No one knew about it and no one cared.


A few regional shepherds got wind of it by means of an angel choir. They paid a visit and were astonished. Then again, no one really cared what shepherds thought back then except for their mothers. Even then it was up for grabs…

A couple of years later some pretty cool eastern mystics stopped by for a visit to this boy. They knew he was the true King and treated him as such. The irony that they were of the wrong religious background is lost on most of us.

But it wasn’t lost on Herod. He heard about the Magi visit and promptly lost his mind, ordering the slaughter of the innocents and accidentally revisiting Jeremiah’s haunting words that Rachel is weeping and won’t be comforted for her children are no more.

I am a father to 3 children. I cannot begin to fathom it.

This little boy king grew up strong in stature, confounding the religious elders all his life, showing that the true way of God is service and love for all: love for neighbor, love for enemy. Self sacrificial love. He taught it. He lived it. He died it. He rose it.

Fast forward a couple of thousand years and Herod is a blip in the history books and a footnote in the DSM IV. Caesar Augustus is a multiple choice answer on a middle school quiz. Jesus is the single most history changing person to ever live. A good deal of humanity in some way or other have discovered the incredible news that Jesus is King and that living under the sovereignty of this King is the true way of human freedom and flourishing. Shalom is how the old timers used to say it.

Herod and Caesar held cultural power and wielded it with extreme prejudice against their subjects. Jesus held no cultural power, but immense divine power and offered it sacrificially for his subjects, for their sake. For my sake.

History would agree it was really no contest: Jesus won the war on Christmas. He reigns today, but in the same way he always reigned: subversive, serving, sacrificing, forgiving, inviting. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

But Jesus is not at war with a retail establishment and nor should his followers be. The job of a retail establishment is not to proclaim the peace of Christ, the good news that brings great joy.

That’s our job, Christians. We really shouldn’t be outsourcing the bidding of peace to retail. If history is our guide, anytime the church outsources the gospel, the message gets confused. Do we really want our retail establishments proclaiming the message?

Please. Please. Christians. Stop outsourcing the gospel and stop expecting your retail neighbors to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Instead, learn to love your retail neighbors. Not by boycotts and letters and web rants, or worse yet, by accosting some local barista who is just trying to make 40 cups per hour, hit the store metrics and pay her bills. But by simple courtesy, gratitude and kindness. More listening, less speaking. More care, less heat.

If you do in fact choose to wish your barista a merry Christmas which may be an excellent thing to do, here’s a threat from your friendly local pastor: take a moment to check your heart first. Because if you are wielding “Merry Christmas” as a weapon, then you’re on the wrong side of Christmas. You’re representing Herod and Caesar, not the true King.

May the good news of Jesus and his love revolution infect all our hearts, bursting out of our corpuscles so that a hurting, cynical, exhausted world can know: there is a God. God is for you. God can be with you. Immanuel.

Merry Christmas.

Housing Affordability Downloads


This morning I’m at Denver Faith and Justice Conference, serving on a workshop panel to discuss challenges and pathways for housing affordability.

For those who would like to download the resources we mentioned, I’ve loaded them to dropbox.  The folder is 52 megabytes and is a collection of presentations we’ve made, articles and statistics.  Click here to access the folder of materials.

For those who follow the blog, the material may be of interest to you.  Denver’s Front Range is in a housing affordability crisis. On the northern side of town, faith leaders are working together to provide pathways into housing affordability to the working poor and others.

TBT: Holiest or Hungriest?

A few years ago I was sitting in a pastor workshop and Larry Osborne was teaching.  Larry, by the way, is the living embodiment of pragmatic wisdom, but I digress.

So Larry was teaching some lessons from 40 years of pastoring and he said, “Pastors:  stop trying to live like a pastor.  Just model a life of a mature believer for your people.”

I knew exactly what he meant.

I was trained in a ministry approach that could be summarized, “be the holiest guy in the room.”  While we were in college we actually had a visiting pastor tell us that if we were in old clothes, changing oil on our car and needed to run to the auto store for more oil, that we should stop, shower, put on a suit and tie before we go to the store because it was important to always look like a pastor in public.


Sure, that visiting pastor is a caricature of the problem, but he’s a good example of the temptation to look holy for your people.  This approach causes pastors to either become weird or unapproachable to the rest of the world.  It also leads a pastor into temptation to appear different than they really are.  Such an approach doesn’t lend toward these kinds of complements.  Such an approach doesn’t help everyday people see what a life lived for Christ can look like.

In contrast, Larry is suggesting that we lead not by looking holy, but by simply living for Christ on display for others to see.

Being hungry and hungering after Christ more than trying to become holy, which is Christ’s work in us.

The thinking is, if we’re truly hungry and we’re a display of how Christ fills us, it will cause others’ stomachs to rumble.

I think this is what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 4:16, when he told the church to “imitate me” and then again in chapter 11, “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” Honestly, I was never comfortable with Paul saying this until I realized that what he is saying here is, “I will live a concrete example of a person hungry after Christ.”

What makes Paul really cool is how he then went on to display his hunger:  weakness, sin, slavery, hardship. He put on full display his own shortcomings and therefore his life was the living embodiment of the Power of Christ, Grace of Christ, Tenderness of Christ. Hearing Paul talk about it makes me hungry. It also gives me a model by which to lead.

Hungriest not holiest.

Josh Packard on “The Dones”

Josh Packard graciously came to speak to our staff today.  Josh is a PhD in Sociology of Religion and teaches at University of Northern Colorado Philosophy Department.  He recently authored Church Refugees, a sociological study of the “Dones.”  The book and Josh’s thoughts are well worth your time.  You can also keep with Josh over at www.dechurched.net.  This post is long because Josh had so much great content for us.
Josh’s thoughts are in normal type, my reaction is in italics.
First a definition of the “dones” – people who are “done” with the institutional church, but not done with Jesus. They honestly believe that the institutional church is an obstacle for their faith in Jesus.
Despite the alarm bells some articles are sounding, belief in God is generally unchanged over time.  People still believe in God, still believe religion is important, and yet “unaffiliated” is increasing. If 92% of believe in God, but 20% are unaffiliated, in that space is the “dones.”  The story is not ‘decline of belief’ the story is ‘decline of commitment to institutional church.’ People don’t trust organizations, but out of those organizations, people trust religious organizations the least.
Who Are The Dones? 
– Disproportionately highly involved in ministry.  They are driven by serving, engaging in meaningful service.  When I first heard this, I was surprised.  My assumption was the opposite – that they were on the fringe, uninvolved.  
– Forward thinking entrenpeneurs.
– Consider your core of your dedicated volunteers, core of leadership. These have much commonality with dones.  When church plants started closing, I noticed it generating a lot of “dones.”  People who have poured tremendous resource into a church, only to choose to walk away.  
– Highly educated – better educated than the average Christian.  1/3 of dones have grad school degree or hours.
– We’re talking generally stable, highly intelligent, highly committed people.
– Generally speaking: white, but this will change soon.
– Ave age: mid 40s. Because it takes a few rounds of serving in a church to finally be done.  (ouch!) We surveyed 18-84 yr olds.  One lady, “I’m 84 and I’m tired of getting lectured at!”  LOL
– They have accumulated a series of bad experiences at more than one church and found the same systemic issues wherever they went.
Switchers and Nones
– Switchers change church because of style or preference.
– Dones can be switchers, but often switchers become dones after seeing the same systemic issues each place they go.
– Nones walk away from church AND faith.  Dones walk away from church with faith in tact.

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Boxing Match or Beauty Contest?

being a jerk about it

For the Discovery Church family, this blog post is a very brief excerpt of Sunday’s sermon.

A couple of years ago, my friend Brian Mavis was preaching at Discovery and he posed the question, “Is the church’s relationship to culture a boxing match or a beauty contest?”  He had participated in a think tank of Christian leaders in DC and heard the question originally posed by Eric Teetsel of The Manhattan Declaration.  The question has festered inside me ever since.

The boxing match side of the equation isn’t difficult to understand.  The “culture wars” have been raging for over a generation now, but it surely begs the question of why followers of the Prince of Peace are so comfortable waging a war.

I think some of the reason for this “war” is because too many Christians have made a fundamental mistake: expecting a non-Christian to act like a Christian. When did we forget that the Bible is God’s Word written to God’s people? It has absolute truth in it, specific right and wrongs and the whole package is a path of life, a vision for how to be human. But it only makes sense through the transformation of the Holy Spirit.  It only works when a human heart has been captivated by the love of Jesus, yet far too many Christians lace up the gloves and attempt to inflict the way of Jesus without sharing with people the love of Jesus.  

Other followers aren’t lacing up for a fight, they are simply grieving the current reality.  Understandably so, for in many cases the values of the country they grew up in are no longer the values of the country they live in. They never changed countries, they feel that their country drastically changed on them. Particularly for white suburban people, the values of their country used to run parallel, or in loose agreement with the values of scripture. However I’m not sure that many african american or native american followers harken back to the good old days. Perhaps this is yet another lesson white believers can learn from their brothers and sisters from other ethnic groups?

The church is no longer the home team, we are now the away team. 

And the great news is the gospel THRIVES when the church is the away team.  The bible records approximately 1700 years of history from Abraham to John the revelator.  Out of that 1700 years, God’s people had political and cultural power for about 60 years.  The rest of the time, the people of God were the away team and of many years during that time the gospel absolutely thrived.  This is good news for followers of Christ because the majority of the Bible shows us examples of people living faithfully for God in a culture that was indifferent or hostile to their way of life.  Abraham, Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah….Jesus, Paul and the Apostles all lived the vision of God’s Kingdom while living inside a different political reality.  Granted, things didn’t always turn out well for them, but they did for the Kingdom.

This is the beauty contest side of the equation.  Followers of God had a beautiful story, the most beautiful story of the God of grace whose vision of how to be human is stunning in its implications for all who believe.

Perhaps we need Paul’s reminder in Philippians 3 that we are citizens of God’s Kingdom.  We are not dual citizens, we are resident aliens who are ambassadors for God’s love.  This is a difficult thing to remember in the land of the free. We aren’t here to need something from culture, we are here primarily to give something to culture. Often the way we give it is opposite of the way we would want to: self sacrificing love.  This is the power of the gospel. This begs two questions I wish to ask:

Q1. What should a Christian reasonably expect from their culture?

Q2: What should culture reasonably expect from the Christians in it?

What do you think?

Taking the Bible Literarily

A few years ago, after I preached a sermon from Genesis 1, a man confronted me about the content.  He argued that I hadn’t effectively defended young earth creationism in my message.  With a red face he then proceeded to draw a straight line between my ‘problematic’ sermon and today’s many grave social ills. Of course, the line he drew was a slippery slope.  He closed with, “I just wish you would take the Bible more literally.”

Allow me to pause for a necessary diversion.

a) The Bible’s genealogies, not Genesis 1 are the typical devices used to support young earth creationism.

b) I am neither a young earth creationist nor am I an evolutionist.  I lack the geological and biological expertise to have knowledge on either and I am not particularly interested in the mechanics of creation.  There are too many possible ways God created the earth that can line up with Genesis 1 to mention in a blog.

c) The message of Genesis 1, however, fascinates me beyond comprehension. There is ONE GOD, God’s power is such that speech and breath make things happen.  Humans are made in God’s image, so we reflect and bear God’s image to each other and we are capable of relating to our Creator. The implication of this takes my breath away.  It certainly causes me to worship our good, good Father, which I believe is exactly the purpose of Genesis 1.

d) Genesis 1 is concerned with the WHO of creation much more than the WHEN of creation.  Genesis 1’s HOW of creation is certainly listed, but it is framed poetically. Literary form must bear on the interpretation, as must a comparison to other ancient near east creation accounts.

e) I take the bible literally.  I believe the Bible’s claim about itself is accurate: it is the inspired word of God. It is God breathed. It is the authority on my life.  (Ok, yes, God is my actual authority, but the God breathed Bible helps me in submitting to God’s authority.)

So when he said, “I wish you would take the Bible more literally” I replied, “I wish you would take it more literarily.”  I believe to this day that I take the Bible much more literally than he does.

No, he did not appreciate the pun :)

Too many people say that “they take the Bible literally” when they actually mean, they “take the Bible at face value.” But taking the Bible at face value violates the fundamental tenet of all Bible interpretation which is, “The Bible can never mean what it never meant.”  The first question to ask of any text is, “What did the author mean?”  And then, “What is the cultural and literary context of this passage?” There is no way Moses or the final editor of Genesis had in mind a modern scientific debate when he penned those stunning words.

Don’t get me started on Ruth with its perfect symmetry and ‘chiasm within chiasm’ framework, or Esther who never mentions the present and active God who is silent, or Isaiah of Exile who penned some of the most moving, pastoral words in all Scripture.  Looking at the literary style of scripture only adds to a person’s ability to take it literally.  Understanding the authorial intent and cultural context moves the text from 2 dimensional to 3 dimensional. I believe it is part of the Bible being “alive and active, sharper than a two edged sword.”

This is why good bible scholarship is such a gift to the church. Scholars dedicate their adult life to understanding the literal meaning of the text and assist us in the essential move from putting our bias onto the text to reading what is actually there.  I can’t tell you how many times it has “come alive” when I have done the extra work of taking it literarily.

Face value can get you so far, but if you want to take the Bible literally, you have to learn to take it literarily.

Dave Runyon on Life Change and Alignment

Dave Runyon stopped by our staff meeting on Tuesday to share his experience with aligning his gifts and passion with his primary vocation.  Dave lives what he believes and to his point below, changes his life to align with his belief and core conviction.  His impact in this city is profound and pervasive and I always come away from time with Dave having learned something.
What I’ve learned to make my life work better.  
— If vocation is 40 – 60 hours per week, how can I find something that doesn’t feel like work?
— For whatever you’re doing right now, the odds are this:  the demands of your ministry exceed your actual capacity.  I bought the lie that increasing my capacity would make it all work.  But the other way to do it is to have an honest assessment of the demands.  What are you going to take on, what are other people putting on you, what urgent matters are driving you?  My inbox and voicemail were driving my schedule and demand.  Living like that drifts you out of alignment with your values and calling.
— All the external metrics of my ministry were working – I experienced external success and affirmation.  But internally I was living out of alignment with who I was and what I was about.
— Watching a key leader have a public moral failure gave me an out.  I could see where my life was heading.  I watched what happens when you deal with your internal problems through a secret life. This was a huge struggle because I believed the lie that I was living the dream – and that it was my only opportunity to make a kingdom impact.
— I was a teaching pastor teaching people how to live out the text, but I wasn’t neighboring at all.  The pace and demands of ministry interfered with my obedience to Jesus. I had to slow down to love my neighbors.

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Kim Skattum on Long Term Leadership Health

Kim Skattum stopped by our staff meeting recently to share some of the lessons he has learned after 35 years of leading in a local church.  Kim is a local church pastor whom many of us count as a mentor.
What I wished I knew when I started
1) Be intentional about your self care.
– life issues are much deeper when you are in ministry.  you get drawn into deep emotional situations and it takes toll.
– Col 3:23 was a chain around my neck and I worked too hard.  gained a lot of weight, never wanted to let anyone down.
– “I believed that if I took care of myself, I was not taking care of other people.” Advice I was given, “you take care of God’s children, God will take care of your children.”  This was stupid advice.
I changed my calendar from being an enemy of my family to become a defender of my family.
2) You Can’t Fix People.  
– I was pastor Kim on the spot.  I never evaluated the need, I just always went.
My counseling was always open ended rather than heading toward closure.  I would keep meeting with people until we were all frustrated and I was burned out.
– Now I seek to listen to people until I understand them and they know I understand them and then I pray for them.  Agreement is often immaterial to listening – people are seeking understanding as much as anything.  If someone feels understood by you, they often feel loved.
– You need a hobby that you can “fix.” I spend two or three hours per week apprenticing at a bike shop.  I love it because it is the only area of my life that I can fix it.  I can apply a skill and fix something.  Often times, pastors need hobbies with tangible results for their own wellbeing.
3) Replace Yourself.
– All our staff and volunteers are required to actively replace themselves.  Actively pour yourself into another person who could replace you.  They may replace you in your setting or they may be able to do your job in another Kingdom setting.
– We give the people we’re mentoring as much of us as we possibly can.  We give them training, but we also give them authority.
– We applaud people who are applauding people.
– We’re all interims.  We all have a limited shelf life.  Whether you leave, get sick, retire or die.
– Leaders don’t volunteer, they are recruited.  They respond to a personal invitation, not a general announcement.  Real leaders want to be invited in.  You are doing something that other people are interested in.  Your job is to find them, invite them, mentor them.