Disciples are peacemakers


(Author's Note:
This is a big week on the J-Blog. We're going to be featuring a couple of interruptions in the Disciples Are series with our good friend Ed Cyzewski, author of Coffeehouse Theology and his new book A Path to Publishing. In the meantime, you'd do well to check out his original interview on the blog here, and get ready for a week of fun! Now on to the show...)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9 ESV

Peace is an incredibly tricky thing.

For instance, how about that war we find ourselves fighting right now? I was having a conversation with a friend about this yesterday. On the most basic level, I'm really against the war. I don't think we should be over there. I don't think it was justified. I don't think the war does a particularly good job of glorifying Christ. I've felt that way since the beginning, and I still feel that way today.

But then I think about what would happen if we left. What would that region look like if we all of a sudden took off and never looked back? Would that at all be the responsible thing of us to do? Wouldn't that simply lead to chaos in the region, which would likely support the growth of the terrorist cells over there that started this whole thing?

Or what about the troops? On memorial day (see, sometimes my procrastination produces good timing!) I find it incredibly meaningful to remember that being opposed to the war doesn't mean being opposed to the troops who so willingly and heroically give their lives over to us to fight on our behalf. Do my luke warm feelings about the war translate into luke warm feelings about the people who are fighting it? I certainly hope not!

What about peace on the every day level? As someone in church leadership, I'm all to frequently put in a position where choosing one side will upset one group of people, and choosing another side will upset another. Making a choice will certainly lead to more conflict, but not making a choice is most definitely terrible leadership and will also lead to conflict...

Suddenly, when you think about it a little bit more than just the surface question, the idea of peace becomes complicated.

There's a wonderful series of videos on YouTube right now that might be worth examining:

Three rock stars, three different answers about the notion of peace. If we can't come up with a decent definition for peace, then how can we possibly be the people who are making it?

I am gearing up for a sermon this Sunday (subtle plug) on Doubt, and I was having a conversation with a student about it yesterday. This student was telling me that he felt like he was growing distant from God every time he had a doubt or he had these questions in his head, and in fact he was starting to get worried that he was pushing himself away from God. I reminded him that in fact if you're worried about pushing yourself away from God, you'll almost never do it. If it's that important to you, you'll find a way to hang in there.

The same thing is true about peace. We might not know what true, authentic peace looks like in our culture, but we also seem to recognize it when it's there. If in our hearts our desire is peace, if we strongly desire to make peace, then peace will in fact find us. It's hard to get into an argument with someone when you have peace as your goal. It's hard to devalue another human being when you desire peace. Maybe in the instance of peacemaking, hitting the target isn't quite as important as taking your best shot.

More tomorrow!



Disciples are pure.


Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8 ESV)

This is a tough one, isn't it?

What exactly does it mean to be pure in heart? I took a quick look at google definitions and found this:

free from discordant qualities

Which was all great and good, until I had to look up discordant.

not in agreement or harmony; "views discordant with present-day ideas"

Ah, not it starts to make some sense. Something is pure when it is free from qualities that make it out of agreement or harmony. Something that lives in tension all the time can't possibly be pure, can it? To be pure means that everything works together, everything flows together, everything fits together. When you look at pure gold, there's not an ounce of anything else in there, all the gold flows together quite nicely and creates something exceptionally beautiful.

So what does it mean to be pure in heart? What does it look like to have a heart that is completely harmonious? And for that matter, harmonious with what (or who)?

Let's make some assumptions here. The first is that when Jesus says "Pure in heart", and we take that to mean living in harmony with something or someone, that the someone is in fact God. To be pure in heart means to live with a heart like God's heart, to be in complete harmony with God's will, God's actions, God's desires. Purity in heart means to live the way God called us to live.

Someone should do a blog series about that...

The question takes a turn here. We develop a problem, specifically the problem of sin. Speaking from a personal place, I know first hand that sin can creep into a person's heart and make it shall we say "discordant". As long as there is sin in my life, as long as there is sin in the world, I don't know that I'll ever actually be pure in heart.

Or will I?

Is it possible to overthrow the power of sin in a person's life? Is it possible for Christ to come in, clean us up, and rather than waiting until we die to see heaven, to actually align our hearts with God's for any significant period of time? Or are we doomed to live a completely discordant (hey, it's new, I'm going to use it as much as I can!) life this side of heaven?

I think it is possible, through the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to live a pure life. I know it seems far fetched, and I know it seems ludicrous, but I think it's possible. More over, I think it's dangerous to believe it's impossible. If I don't think that I'll ever be able to have a pure heart, then it's not very likely that I'll work on purifying my heart. I'll just wait until I die, and Jesus will clean up my mess when I get to heaven.

That doesn't sound like a very exciting life to me...

So take some time this day to clean up your heart. What would it look like to live in harmony with God? It would probably take some time in God's word, but more than just reading it. It would probably take going out and doing something about it. And it would probably mean doing that without regard for the kind of reward that might be in it for you. It would mean living for God, simply because you wanted to live for God.

More tomorrow!


Disciples are forgiving


Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Matthew 5:7 ESV)

One of my favorite questions to ask the kids at Veritas lately is "What does forgiveness look like?" It's actually a pretty deep question, in that there are several layers or degrees of response to it. On the surface, there's the simple answer "letting go of someone who wronged you." But if you dig a bit further, when you examine our relationship with God and how much he had to forgive us, and then allow that to trickle down into our relationships with each other, you get to the heart of forgiveness and you see that it's willing to go as deep as we are.

In my humble opinion, forgiveness is the most beautiful thing in the world.

In our staff bible study, we read from another piece of scripture that I found interesting:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18 ESV)

Can you remember the moment when you realized how much you needed God's mercy, and how beautiful it was to realize it was there for you? Even if you're like me and you were baptized before you really had an opportunity to screw up, you grew up in the church, I bet there was a moment of revelation in your life. And again, if you're like me, it was beautiful. It knocked you off your feet with it's simple invitation to be loved in spite of all that you had done, in spite of your past, and in spite of your junk.

What Paul and Jesus are saying to us is that we get the awesome responsibility to hand that redemption and reconciliation to other people the same way God gave it to us. When someone wrongs you, as painful as it might be in that moment, you have a new opportunity to participate in the redemptive process. If it's done right, you can experience the joy and grace and beauty of forgiveness at your finger tips.

However, don't forget a couple of things. Mercy in fact implies that the other person doesn't deserve it. We certainly didn't deserve the treatment Christ gave us, but that didn't stop him. In fact, that's what made it so beautiful. So the trick is to go beyond forgiving the people we feel like forgiving, and forgiving the people who under no circumstances deserve or warrent our forgiveness. Jesus isn't giving us an easy thing to do to check off the list here. This is a challenge. This is a commitment to the redemptive lifestyle. This is going to be difficult.

But ask yourself: Would you want it to be any other way?

Who do you need to forgive? Right now, today, this second, can you take a few steps towards spreading the ministry of reconciliation to some other people around you? Can you share the beauty of the grace and mercy that have been given to you?

Don't wait for another second. Forgive now.

More later today possibly? Who knows!



Disciples are hungry


Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6 ESV)

Sometimes it's the simple things that kill us.

For example, I'm writing this right now from the diner down the street from our house. For about 6 bucks, I've purchased more food than I need. I'm leaving behind two slices of toast, a hand full of french fries, and a couple shards of scrambled eggs. I've got coffee beside me (as is typically the case for a blog post) that will be refreshed as many times as I need it to be. Those six bucks that this meal cost me are ultimately not that painful to part with. My guess is during the course of my week I'll hardly notice they're gone.

And this is all well and good, until you realize there are people in the world that live on $2 a day. That's it! It would take folks like that three days to be able to afford the meal I've just consumed, and that's if they put aside all the other conveniences I've neglected to mention like the gas it took me to get here in my car that I make payments on from the house that I rent each month. The truth is that there are people around the world for whom just the SCRAPS I left behind would be a feast and a half.

Something isn't right.

Something isn't right when dad splits and leaves a single mother to care for her tiny children alone. Something isn't right when parents are forced to choose between feeding themselves or feeding their children. Something isn't right with a father has to bury his own son. Something isn't right when rather than receiving help, a homeless man is shunned because he "brought it upon himself."

Something isn't right, and whether we're ready to admit it or not, it's the same "something" that causes people to hijack planes and fly them into buildings.

When we come to this realization (which is an accomplishment in and of itself in many cases), we're faced with a choice. We can either shake our heads, say "that's a shame", and return to our comfy cushions and our cups of coffee. We can try to ignore it and pretend it's not happening. We can explain it away, saying things like "I'd help if I could, but I'm just one person..."


We can be hungry! We can insist that this is absolutely not the righteousness that God intended for the world when he created the world. We can do more than dream the big dreams, we could actually believe they could happen and then act on it. We could resign ourselves to the fact that complacency is for pansies, and that the job of the Church will not be done until the wedding feast of the Lamb.

The world is broken. If you don't believe me, turn on CNN or Fox or whatever your news channel of choice is. Better yet, go spend a couple hours in the worst neighborhood in your city. The question at the end of this blog post is what are you going to do about it? Will this blog post actually inspire action, or are we just used to hearing the cry to battle?

If you need just a little more assurance, and you don't mind a somewhat violent metaphor, Jesus has loaded the gun and placed it in our hands. The end of this passage tells us that if we are truly hungry for justice in the world, we'll see it happen. Do you believe that? I mean when the rubber hits the road, do we believe that Jesus meant what he said? Not just the parts about saving us (though that's super important to believe too!), but this kind of stuff. Do you believe that if you actually hunger and thirst for righteousness, you'll see it come to fruition? You'll be satisfied?

If you do, then join me. Set the coffee down for a bit, and let's change the world.

More tomorrow!


Disciples are quiet.


Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5 ESV)

Definitions of meek on the Web:

  • humble in spirit or manner; suggesting retiring mildness or even cowed submissiveness; "meek and self-effacing"
  • very docile; "tame obedience"; "meek as a mouse"- Langston Hughes
  • evidencing little spirit or courage; overly submissive or compliant; "compliant and anxious to suit his opinions of those of others"; "a fine fiery blast against meek conformity"- Orville Prescott; "she looked meek but had the heart of a lion"; "was submissive and subservient"

Do those words describe you? Are you in fact humble in spirit or manner? Do you get in people's faces at all?

What about the Church? When people outside the Church look at us on CNN or Fox or even our own stuff like the 700 Club, do they see us as docile? Are we in fact as meek as a mouse?

Sadly, I don't think we are. I think most people (myself absolutely included) find that when they feel they are right about something, they go out of their way to prove their rightness. They will defend their rightness. They will even scream and yell about their rightness from time to time. When people feel like they're absolutely right about something, meekness leaves the equation.

Take for example our political system. When someone is running for office of any kind (with the possible exception of inspector of elections) they typically start out feeling as though the deserve the office. Perhaps they have some sort of experience that will give them an advantage against everyone else who's running. Perhaps they feel the person they're running against has no advantage whatsoever. Whatever reason it is that they feel certain that they deserve the office they're running for, politicians seem to be the least meek group of people ever.

Now, what's interesting here is that even from my desk on the other side of the computer screen, I can hear you all now bemoaning how awful and terrible and disgusting some of these politicians can be. Pennsylvania just went through our primary season, and I think we're all breathing a sigh of relief that it's over and those horrible commercials are off our TVs. But we have to ask ourselves, do we act like them?

When we're trying to spread the Gospel of Jesus, are we nothing more than a loud and annoying political commercial? Are we just annoying to the people we're preaching to, or are we actually getting somewhere? The real question you have to ask yourself is are people more likely to listen to someone who's yelling about Jesus or someone who's living like Jesus?

I think it's the later. And according to verse 5, so does Jesus.

So let's try a little experiment this weekend*. Let's be quiet. Let's not insist on our own way (1 Corinthians 13), but instead let's spend a whole weekend listening to the people around us. Let's listen to the people that we agree with, and let's even spend some time listening to the people we know we disagree with. Let's be quiet. Let's be meek. Let's try our best to live like Jesus.

More on Monday,



*I've decided that weekends are too crazy to try to continue a blog series, so we'll keep this up during the working week.

Blogs I Like


I've been spending some time reading A Path to Publishing by long time friend of J-Blog Ed Cyzewski. We're going to have an interview on the blog here in a couple of weeks, but as I was reading I realized the importance of sharing the blogs you like and giving props where props are due. So, today I thought it would be cool to work through a list of the blogs I read with any kind of regularity. I broke them down into the categories they live in my Google Reader. Enjoy!

This is one of Ed's blogs. Absolutely mind blowing theological stuff going on here, well worth a read. Ed also has a blog specifically for writers that can be found at http://www.edcyz.com/

http://donmilleris.com/ How could you not read Donald Miller's blog? Author of tremendous books, Don pens some of the most thought provoking posts of my day.

http://www.leadingsmart.com/ Tim Stevens writes some incredibly practical information for any of us who find ourselves in church leadership. Do tune in!

http://presbymergent.org/ Loyal radicals. 'Nuff said!

http://stuffchristianslike.net/ Probably one of the fastest growing blogs on the internet right now. Seriously, Jon Acuff is everywhere. His new book Stuff Christians Like is based largely on the blog, and is also definitely worth the read.

http://whyismarko.com/ Blog of former Youth Specialties president Mark Oestreicher, this is absolutely THE place to go for youth ministry and caption contests. Marko has also written some pretty stellar books.

http://sarahfett.blogspot.com/ My wife's blog. Super interesting posts, and not just because she's cute!

http://christinewaller.blogspot.com/ Caught in the Middle follows the travels of Christine Waller, who I guarantee has done more awesome things in the last 10 minutes than you or I have done in 3 months.

http://imsurebut.blogspot.com/ Jake Clawson ladies and gentlemen.

http://jayhigham.wordpress.com/ Jay Higham is a youth pastor from Sommerset PA whom I respect a tremendous amount. Great stuff happening here!

http://christopherbrown.wordpress.com/ Chris Brown is the pastor at The Upper Room here in Pittsburgh, a church that I desperately wish I could spend more time at.

http://lovedceaselessly.wordpress.com/ The blog of fellow bandmate/youth ministry conspirator Luke McClain. He says "mom" weird in real life, but it doesn't come out on the blog.

The Pittsburgh Penguins

http://blogs.sites.post-gazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=94&Itemid=101 Ok, that's the least accessable blog url ever, but these guys are my first point of contact with anything going on in the world of the Pens. Seriously good reporting all around.

http://www.thepensblog.com/ Yes, they can be a bit crude. But holy cow are they funny! And also probably the most level headed of the Pens Fanboys. When everyone else pushes the panic button, these guys keep their cool.

http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy Puck daddy is ABSOLUTELY the place to go for any and all NHL news. Doesn't matter what team you support, you need to be there!

So that's what I've been reading. What about you?

Disciples are sad.


Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 ESV)
When was the last time you mourned? When was the last time you truly felt a sense of loss, of tragedy in your heart? When was the last time you actually allowed yourself the opportunity to cry?

I say this as a guy who very infrequently cries. I don't think at all that it's because I have some sort of macho complex, that I feel like I'll lose a bit of manliness for letting a few tears fall. I have other areas on my life that prove I'm not the most Chuck Norris-y guy, and I'll readily own those areas of my life. But for reasons beyond my understanding, I don't usually feel the need to cry.

I don't know why it is that we feel the need to put up these huge defenses all the time against allowing sadness into our lives. At least in the American culture it seems as though we’ve gotten pretty comfortable equating sadness with weakness. If something or someone causes you to feel sad, you’re obviously attached to that something or someone. They must have a certain power over you to make you feel that way.

Typically when we think of mourning, we think of a loved one passing away. But really, in that and in several other situations, mourning is identifying and experiencing a sense of loss. I think you can mourn a break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. I think you can mourn a terrific television show (read: The West Wing) coming to an end. I even think you can mourn an empty coffee pot when you are in need of a fix.

But frequently we don’t. Frequently we just pretend the loss isn’t real, that it didn’t affect us, that we are fine either way. And when we do, we close ourselves off to a deeper healing. We close ourselves off to the comfort that Jesus promises here in verse 4.

You know what I mourn deeply? The loss of a relationship with my heavenly Father.

When I look at the world as it is and compare it to how it could be, I realize that I’m feeling a deep and terrible sense of loss because I don’t have the relationship with God that I want so badly. Things aren’t right, and that truly makes me sad.

Disciples should be sad. Disciples should look around the world and feel a deep sense of loss from our expulsion from the Garden. When we see people homeless in the streets, our hearts should break. When we hear stories of women being raped as a weapon of war in Africa, we should break down inside. When we hear about a war or rumors of a war, our tears should begin flowing. Disciples should understand the break between us and God and all the symptoms it provides.

But Jesus promises that comfort is coming. Jesus reminds us that if we open ourselves up to this kind of mourning, of feeling a deep sense of loss from our relationship with the Father that Jesus will provide comfort. And that’s exactly what he did on the cross.

So take some time today to mourn. Let yourself be sad. But don’t stay there long. Start looking for ways to be comforted, usually found by providing comfort to others.



Caption Contest


Ok, Marko does this all the time and seems to find it quite amusing. I thought I'd give it a shot. To the person who leaves the best caption for the above photo in the comments, I will give either a free lunch at McDonalds (if you live close enough to warrant such a gift) or a shout out on the blog. Ready set go.

Disciples are poor.


"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3 ESV)

Ok, like any good piece of scripture, this one causes more question than I think it answers on the surface. Is this a blessing given to people who are already poor in spirit, because they've had to deal with such a hardship they are given the gift of the kingdom? Or maybe it's a suggestion to all of us that if we have intentions on entering the kingdom of heaven we need to become poor in spirit? What exactly does it mean to be poor in spirit? What does the kingdom of heaven look like? Is it a real place, or more of a state of being? Why is such a thing worthy of being "blessed?" And for that matter, what is a blessing?

I don't know if I could give an easy answer for what it means to be poor in spirit. For that you're going to have to pick up your friendly neighborhood commentary or bible study software. But as someone who's been following Jesus for an extended period of time, I know that I have been poor in spirit, and I know what it feels like.

Even explaining the feeling associated with being poor in spirit is difficult. I try to imagine sometimes that my life has a little dashboard associated with it, and there are all kinds of gages on it. One gage tracks how much physical energy I have left in the tank, and when it's out I need to nap. Another tracks how much emotional energy I have, and when it's out I need to clear my mind and try to get some of the negative thoughts out in a healthy manner. And there's this other gage, and when it's empty, I know that I'm feeling far away from God. When this gage nears the proverbial "E", I am poor in spirit.

Can I get an "amen?"

Now here's some killer irony. I know for a certain fact that anyone who has followed Jesus with any kind of regularity or intensity has felt this. We all go through peaks and valleys in our faith. We all find times where we're surrounded by darkness, feeling separated from God. And in truth, if you can take a moment to look back to the valley when you've come out on the other side, you realize that you do an incredible amount of growing in the valley. You become the person God meant for you to be in the valley. And yet, one thing that the secular world seems to think about us is that we are a collective people who have it all together.

The image we send to the world is one that says getting off the mountain is wrong.

And yet here in the opening line of Jesus' masterpiece sermon, he tells us that we're blessed in times of distance from God. We're blessed when we're poor in spirit. By no means am I a great theologian, but I think the point behind this is that we need to admit our separation from God (read: sin) in order to be set free from it (read: allowed into the kingdom) by Christ. We need to actually admit our need for a savior in order to be saved. So why are we afraid of this? Why do we need to look like we have it all together?

Take a look at the original disciples. They didn't have it all together. In fact, by all accounts they barely had anything together! And yet these 12 guys in spite of their flaws were given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and given the responsibility to usher as many other people into it as they could. The truth is, without these messed up burnt out nobodies, you and I wouldn't have a faith to speak of.

So let's be honest. Let's let the guard down for a little while. Let's admit that we are in fact poor in spirit from time to time. Let's open up the door for the Savior and then actually have the courage to let him in and have a look around. And let's open ourselves up to all the blessings that come with that.

Tomorrow: Disciples are sad.



Disciples Are...An Introduction


Ok, what say you and I dive into another blog series together?

I actually think this might turn into the skeleton of a book, but let's take this one step at a time. This series started with a truly simple question that I think we all ask with a fair amount of consistency: "What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?"

I mean on the surface, it seems like a perfectly simple and non-threatening question. We all go to church. We all do our best not to say curse words. We all stay away from filthy things like cigarettes and getting drunk. Surely this is all enough to keep Jesus happy isn't it? Or maybe if we're honest, if we strip it all away and break it all down, our faith winds up looking a lot like the video at the top of this post. We get in trouble when we slip up and (a slightly too effeminate for me to be comfortable with) Jesus gives us a slap on the wrist, with a dollop of grace and we're back on our merry way. But while we're being honest, can I ask if that kind of "discipleship" is satisfying to you? If you make it through the day without missing a quiet time or swearing, do you really feel closer to God?

Or perhaps there's more to being a disciple than we put on ourselves...

So, we're going to dig deep into that question. For our centering text, we're going to look through the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus basically laid out what it looks like to live as a citizen of the Kingdom. Obviously we'll pull from some supporting texts too, but if you're interested in following along I highly recommend reading these texts with me. I've gone through and outlined 28 (!) attributes of a disciple we can take home from the Sermon, so we're going to be at this for a while. I'd promise to do one every day for the next four weeks, but you know me and how quickly I get sidetracked!

So we'll start things out tomorrow with our first attribute: Disciples are poor.

Till then!


Sad, but true.


"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Ok, I'm really going to get back into blogging here. Things have been busy busy busy lately, but I have another idea for a series of blog posts that I'd like to work on in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share a video that's on every other blog on the internet. While we find this video hilarious, isn't it because there's a grain of truth in it? I'd love to hear your thoughts!



System Upgrades


Greetings friends!

The year is wrapping up. Things are falling into place left and right, and the truth be told as I look back, I realize that this was one of the best years of ministry I've ever had. Some of the problems that had been dogging us since we arrived on the scene have died away. We're just rolling.

As such, it's really given me time to get some stuff together in my personal life. As I mentioned in my post last week, I've really gotten back into riding my bike, specifically to work and back. Not only am I starting to loose some much needed weight, I'm starting to feel better about life in general. I have an extra spring in my step that wasn't there before.

But I realized that it wasn't just the bike riding. Bike riding by itself is a wonderful program to get into. It's wonderful to add that to my life, but there's more to my life than the 1 minute commute back and forth from the church. I realized after I had been riding for a while how much longer I could go between fill ups on the jeep. I realized that in addition to getting in shape, I was taking a few steps towards living simply.

This is going to be critical in the months ahead for our family. Sarah is headed back to grad school, which means money isn't going to be as abundant as it once was. So in the last couple of weeks, I've tried to upgrade the system and think more simply. The other day when Melvin ate my wallet, I resorted to carrying my stack of membership cards and my lone ATM card in a rubber band. I probably saved 10 bucks, and to be honest I kind of like the new system. Rather than going out to buy new clothes at Old Navy or PacSun, I've resolved to shop at Goodwill for a while. (Which, if I'm honest, isn't much of an adjustment, because in Upper Saint Clair the Goodwills are stocked with clothes from Old Navy and PacSun...) What if I could separate myself from the life I used to live, and just live as simply as I can?

Now obviously there are some exceptions to all of this. I was pretty gung-ho to ride tomorrow, but the rain that is being predicted scared me right back inside. I still have the jeep, so I'm going to use it every now and again. But all the same, I'm going to try to upgrade my system into a more simple existence.

Won't you join me on the journey?

Grace and Peace,