#SoulRenewal Reading



I am about to embark on a grand adventure of 14 weeks away from the church I love for an extended time of Sabbatical renewal. Words truly cannot convey the care our family feels at having this opportunity to soak in God’s goodness. I will be on a rhythm of “serve, learn, play” which are 3 of the ways my soul connects with God. We will be traveling for 6 weeks, then home for 8 weeks.

For the “learn” component, one aspect will be some unstructured reading time.  I’ll give a brief annotated bibliography below with links if anyone is interested in grabbing one of these books.  Reading good theologians has been formative in my relationship with God and my outlook on faith.  Continue reading “#SoulRenewal Reading”

Faith and Doubt: Interventionist or Deist?

Lately I have been considering faith and doubt through the lens of deism. I recently heard a skeptic share on the “Unbelievable” podcast that churches should downplay their teaching that God is an interventionist and we should instead teach that God is all powerful, yes, but not involved. In the skeptic’s opinion, teaching a deistic God would alleviate the angst that a believer experiences when God does not intervene the way we wish God would.

At my darker moments I have offered an ‘amen’ to that notion, a deistic God would relieve our hearts that too often cry, “God, why don’t you do more?” The problem is, underneath those moments of doubt, I stand on a bedrock belief that God is indeed an interventionist. God is greatly concerned and involved in our lives. Christmas, if nothing else, is the most wondrous of reminders that God intervenes by sending himself.

Immanuel. God is, in fact, near and close.

Skye Jethani wrote a beautiful and wrenching article on this very thing. I have pasted an excerpt below. If you’d like to read the whole article (and you should) you can find it here.

Looking back to that Christmas in 2004, Isaac’s condition did not cause me to question what my faith said about the future. Instead it caused me to question the usefulness of Christianity in the present. I still believed Christ would someday redeem all things, but with a sick and possibly dying child, a grieving wife, and an angry soul, I needed to see evidence of that redemption now. It wasn’t enough for Christianity to offer a hope for tomorrow, my weak faith—like the faith of so many others today—was searching for evidence of God’s power today . That became my prayer. I needed my eyes opened to see that God was with us and the power of his resurrection was at work in the ordinary brokenness of my world. He answered that prayer.

Causes vs Humans

“Someone passionately interested in the cause of the leper very carefully avoids speaking to the leper in his path in order to get on with the cause.  And it occurs to me that Jesus couldn’t have cared less about the cause or rights of the leper.  Jesus stopped.  And healed.  And loved.  Not causes, but people…”  Madelene L’Engle

Many of the people hearing a sermon are in active violation or have been in violation of the teachings of Scripture.  So is the preacher and so has she or he been.  An effective preacher understands that the gospel is about people experiencing forgiveness, healing, freedom etc in the grace of God and will also err on the side of inviting the violator into the Kingdom over trumpeting a cultural cause.

If you love a conviction MORE than the people who are breaking your conviction, you are missing the heart of God.  

If you are living a lifestyle that Christians don’t approve of, the gates of the Kingdom of God are wide open to you, radically open to you, graciously open to you.  And I know they are open to you because they are open to me and if I’m invited, you are too.  After all, I am in the rare category of people who Jesus got really angry at: I’m a religious leader.

In today’s society, there are scores of Christians who have absolutely missed this.  They have constructed boundaries and walls and then taken shelter in the shadow of that wall.  God is busting through those walls and Lord have mercy on anyone who puts an unneccessary wall up to those who need God’s salvation and forgiveness.

2 minute Unity. 25 Minute Unity

christian-unityUnity between churches is challenging and time consuming but is also at the center of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

As a general rule of thumb, if Jesus prayed for it, we want to be part of it.  Collaboration between churches is exciting and powerful, but if you’re not there yet, here are two easy-peasy steps any pastor can take toward true unity with other churches.

2 minute unity: Take 2 minutes in your church service to pray for other churches in your city by name.  We’ve been doing this for a few years now.   Continue reading “2 minute Unity. 25 Minute Unity”

Peterson on the Pastoral Role

Christianity Today interviewed Eugene Peterson about the role of a pastor.  Peterson is one of my mentors I’ve not yet met.  Here is some of what he said:

On the Pastor’s Task:

My task as pastor was to show how the Bible got lived. Of course it’s important to show that the Bible is true, but we have theologians and apologists for that. I just accepted the fact it was true and didn’t bother much about that. I needed to be a witness to people in my congregation that everything in the Bible is livable and to try to avoid abstractions about big truths, big doctrines. I wanted to know how these ideas got lived in the immediate circumstances of people’s lives at work, in the town, and in the family.

On Authority:

The role of the pastor is to embody the gospel. And of course to get it embodied, which you can only do with individuals, not in the abstract.  The authority of the pastor comes from immersion in a community, from giving witness to the fact that this is livable stuff.

That is our task, not just to say it but to live it and to cultivate relationships that have integrity. It’s not telling people what to belief and what to do, which is part of it, but to live it with them. We’re participants in what they’re doing. That’s the unique part of a pastor’s task.

On the Importance of Living in Community:

The life of Christ is developed in community. And if we don’t enter the community ourselves, we abdicate our relational authority with our people. It’s a red flag when pastors don’t want to be with their people. There are many pastors in America who never visit their congregations. “That’s not my job,” they say. “That’s the elders’ job. That’s the deacons’ job.”  That’s pretty telling. If that’s your attitude, you’re not in community.

For the whole interview, click here

Mentors You’ve Not Yet Met

Everybody has them.  Folks who have influenced you from a distance.  Here are some of mine:

1) Eugene Peterson.  A Pastor/Scholar who writes for Pastor/er….hack scholars like me.  I love Dr Peterson because he is old school, counter cultural and a poet trapped in a curmugeon’s body.  For him, pastoring is always extremely local and personal to the people in your church.  For books, I recommend, “Contemplative Pastor,” “The Pastor: A Memoir,” and “5 Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work.”    Also, search itunes for “Zondervan Podcast” and grab Peterson’s message at the 2007 National Pastors Gathering.  He asks the question, “What are pastors good for?” and then spends the next hour chipping away at the answers.  Vintage Peterson.

2) Fred Craddock  (actually, I’ve met Dr Craddock, but its not like I could call him up and invite him for tea…)  Craddock is the finest preacher you’ve never heard of.  He taught me to find my own voice and not try to be someone else.  he also taught the power of story, shock and most of all, the importance of helping people wrestle with the text.  Craddock says, “Don’t spend 10 hours wrestling with your message only to resolve it in 30 minutes for the people.  Instead, spend 10 hours figuring out how to let your people wrestle with the text.”  Craddock is the finest story teller I’ve ever heard inside the church.  His sermon, “What Shall We Do With the Gift” is vintage Craddock.

3) Philip Yancey and Fred Buechner.  Yep, they come in bulk at number 3.  Both incredibly gifted writers, both have wrestled with doubt and both became loyal companions on my own journey of doubt.  These guys write with a fresh and raw honesty that is rare in Christian publishing.  Buechner’s writing holds a beauty and an ache that resonates deeply.  Yancey asks the questions many are timid to ask.  I doubt I’ll ever meet Buechner, but Philip lives down the road, so maybe I’ll start stalking him…  Yancey’s “What’s So Amazing About Grace” is probably a good start.  Buechner’s fiction:  “Son of Laughter.”  His book on preaching, “Telling the Truth” is incredible.

4)  Tim Keller  (ok, so I’ve met Tim as well.  Yep, I’m sort of a big deal.)  Is there a finer pastoral brain alive today?  Brilliant, winsome, engaging, missional, Keller is the whole package.  I know no better example of a preacher who can equally engage the skeptical outsider and the long term insider.  His insights into the text continue to stun me.  His “Preaching the Gospel” talk at Resurgance 2006 is an excellent example of his brain and heart on full display.

5) Walter Brueggeman and N.T. Wright  Come on! I’m a 30 something post modern pastor, its almost obligatory to have these two guys on my list.  World Class Scholars and also excellent preachers.  They write phenomenal theology for the church.  They engage the text almost viscerally and they are shaping the modern church.

Well, there are others for shizzle, but these 5 7 hopefully provide some good resources for your journey.  Feel free to share your mentors that you’ve not yet met.

Kyle Strobel’s Thoughts on Spiritual Formation

Ron Johnson and Joe Beckler lead a local network called “Breakthrough.”  Great network, great content, great leaders.  Last week we sat down with Kyle Strobel to hear his thoughts about spiritual formation.  Who is Kyle?  A couple of masters degrees, a PhD, a brainiac and Lee Strobel’s son.  A guy passionate about Christ.

Here are some highlights from his talk:

1) Christians still dichotomize Jesus and Paul.  Jesus talked “discipleship,” Paul talked “adoption.”  Jesus talked “Kingdom,” Paul talked, “In Christ.”

2) Modern discipleship language uses external terms, but it is an internal process.  Also, we are far too forensic with our discipleship language.  The gospel is ultimately to be experienced, not analyzed.

3) Eugene Peterson is a model pastor for our times as he stood in the gap between professional theologians and church people.

4) So many discipleship principles are used to improve self, but the end of discipleship is ALWAYS Christ.  So the end is always the presence of God, not the improvement of self or character.

5) Is the goal of discipleship to “become like Christ” or is it to have “Christ formed in you?”

6) If your discipleship habits work without Christ, they are not discipleship, they are self improvement.

Kyle was very provocative and openly critiqued some of the more renowned discipleship “gurus” of our time.  Still, I can embrace his bottom line (yeah, let’s not go taking that line out of context!)  His bottom line is all discipleship practices, habits, approaches, discussions should always end with the presence of Christ and Christ’s work in and through you.  He offered a worthy caution not to take self improvement practices and “baptize” them to be useful in the church.
Perhaps on this beautiful Friday morning, his summary is a good reminder, “Discipleship is not about the improvement of character, it is about the presence of Christ.”


peace of Christ on you today


Our ‘behind the scenes’ with their ‘highlight reel’

I was listening to some MP3s from the recent Willow Creek Leadership Summit and Steven Furtick gave a great talk from the life of Elisha on audacious faith. He brought a fantastic message on the importance of “digging ditches” so when God brings the rain, we’re ready to receive it. Our job is to dig the ditches, do the preparation, hard work and wait on God. It is God who brings the rain, does the work, provides. A Great message, a great reminder.

One of the ongoing struggles of MHPs in smaller churches is battling the feeling of insignificance. Even though God is doing amazing things among your congregation, because they may not be quantitatively amazing, a MHP can start to feel insignificant.

Furtick made this profound comment during his message, “One of the reasons we struggle with insecurity is because we’re comparing our ‘behind the scenes’ with everybody else’s ‘highlight reel.'”

What a great reminder for all of us.

I’ve also heard it said this way, “We often compare what we know about ourselves with what we don’t know about others and we find ourselves wanting.”

I hope that is an encouragement to you and meanwhile, I’ve been praying for this past month that God would strengthen my faith and that I would be the “chief noticer of what God is up to.”

This Sunday night our church is holding a baptism party and I was hoping we’d see 8 or 10 people getting baptized. We’re baptizing 21 people. Everyone is talking about it. I think its going to be one of the highlights of our church year. 21 people. That’s almost 10% of our entire attendance being baptized in one day. God is bringing the rain.

John Stott, R.I.P.

John Stott passed away this morning at the age of 90.  He has been described as the most influential Christian than Christians have never heard of.  He was a hero to many local church pastors, one of the finest Bible expositors in the world and a beloved friend to rich and poor everywhere.


In memory of Dr Stott, a great quote from him and then a great quote about him:

From him:  The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales.

About him: Kenneth Kantzer, “When I hear him expound a text, invariably I exclaim to myself, ‘That’s exactly what it means! Why didn’t I see it before?'”



How Plumbing Made Me a Smarter Pastor

In college, I joined the “work study” program where essentially, I provided unskilled labor to the school in  return for cheap wages.  (“Minimum wage” – there’s a term I’d never heard of until moving to USA.)   Some work study students joined the kitchen crew, the library and some did landscaping.  I was assigned to the plumbing crew.  Excellent.

Over the years, I’ve managed to parlay my mad plumbing skills in various places.  I once plumbed an upflush toilet in my basement, I’ve replaced more wax rings than I care to remember (really?  We invented the internet and the iphone and we’re still using wax rings?)  And my piece de resistance was rough plumbing three new construction houses in a Mexican Desert. To this day, I have night terrors that somewhere in rural Mexico, I’m being cursed in Spanish because of blocked toilets and putrid sewage smells.

But I digress.

John Linsenbigler and Rick Bondy, my two plumbing “professors” taught me that plumbing is all about knowing the little secrets that make the big difference.  Any fool (they meant me) can learn about pvc vs cpvc and how many inches to drop a trench for gravity to do its job.  The real masters know the little unpublished tricks that make all the difference between everyday “plumbing for dummies” and the true craftmanship of quality plumbing.

It turns out, every craft has its little secrets and ministry is no different.

Like when Jack Holland taught me how to deal with a strongly opinionated person in a meeting.  You know the type that always has a strong opinion about everything?  Meanwhile, the person who never speaks their mind might actually have something to contribute, but will never speak up.  Reframe the conversation by asking the whole group, “Could you all rate how strongly you feel about this issue?”  The opinionated one has a chance to evaluate his or her aggressive stance, the sales person recognizes that she is selling an idea she doesn’t care much about,  and the quiet mouse gets to say that he feels very strongly about the issue even though he communicates quietly.

Its a game changer and a team equalizer.

Continue reading “How Plumbing Made Me a Smarter Pastor”