Disciples are light.


"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house." (Matthew 5:14-15)

I might be taking a giant leap here, but like yesterday's post, I think this passage has a great deal to do with culture, and specifically how followers of Christ interact with culture. It could be that I'm just in that frame of mind because of the combination of my good friend Justin Bower's teachings at Common-Cup and the recent trip at Alive, but I think that this is a bigger issue than any of us realize. How do Christians interact with culture in a healthy and responsible way?

What we tend to do seems to be exactly what Jesus warns us not to do in this passage. We have an incredibly well lit lamp in some places (not so much in others...). There are Christian bands that are making a tremendous amount of great music (Jars of Clay, Mute Math, David Crowder Band, Switchfoot, Relient K, Skillet, Needtobreath, Grungor, and Family Force 5 just to name a few), but what we tend to do is keep them entirely to ourselves in some kind of Christian sub-culture. Now a lot of these bands are getting with the program and touring with "secular" bands, but I think there's still an atmosphere of exclusion in the Christian sub-culture. We want to keep it to ourselves and our culture safe from the world "out there." We light the lamp, but then we put it under the basket of the Christian bubble.

A couple of thoughts. If you scan the scriptures, you will never see the word "Christian" used as an adjective. If we hold true that truth comes from the scriptures, and that we are meant to guide our lives by it, I don't think we should use it as an adjective. What makes a band Christian? What makes a book Christian? If I write a song that doesn't mention Jesus, yet I'm a Christian, does that make it a Christian song? If it's not a Christian t-shirt, does that mean it's worthless and unredeemable? Because another word that won't show up in the scriptures is "secular," and I think that means something for us today.

How has your walk with Christ impacted the culture at large? Would the world actually know you're different by simply examining you, or would they only see the part of your faith that you let out in the world, reserving the rest for our Christian festivals? Is your light shinning, or do you have it under a basket?

If you made it through the whole post without humming "This little light of mine," +5 cool points.

More later,


Disciples are salty


"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men."

Ok, I'll admit it. I pour salt on just about every food imaginable. Chicken, steak, French fries. Sarah yelled at me once for putting salt on kraft Mac and cheese. That was the day that I learned about sodium levels in my food.

But the truth is that I salt everything because I love the flavor of salt. Some people reach for the chocolate, and others like me reach for the potato chips. Now imagine that my favorite steak dinner is sitting in front if me, and I sprinkle some of those delightful white flakes on my meat, and they don't have any flavor to them. Nothing. I get all the harmful effects of extra sodium in my diet, but no flavor. I would feel completely ripped off, not to mention completely unsatisfied.

Some people who have preached on this passage have gone into all different uses for salt, which it definitely has a couple, but I don't think we should ask too much of this passage. Jesus doesn't say that we are salt that doesn't melt ice, he says we might be salt without flavor. So for the sake of argument, let's say that this passage is a call to us to spice things up.

I spent this past week at the Alive festival, which is a wonderful Christian music festival in Ohio. While the music and the worship were awesome, as I walked around the festival grounds and through the merch tent and everything, and I saw how all our t-shirts and everything, I realized we were trying to hide from the world. And I got really sad, because if we spend all of our time hiding from the world, we're probably not doing a good job of spicing things up. If we keep to ourselves, if we create our own sterile culture rather than influencing and creating culture at large, are we just salt without flavor? Are we doing the world a great disservice by trying to keep ourselves safe from it?

Or perhaps put another way, are we shinning a bright light all the while keeping it under the basket of our safety? More on this thought tomorrow.



Disciples are in trouble.


Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12 ESV)

When I was in college I had an experience where this passage was abused far beyond the limits of what it should ever be intended to mean. I was walking to class one morning, when a group of people were walking around the oak grove with huge signs. Seriously, they had to have special belts that would hold these signs up. The signs said things like "SInners will burn in hell" and "God doesn't approve of your actions" and "God hates the gays". I shuddered even a little bit more when I discovered that their special belts came with holsters for their huge study bibles. This was trouble.

As someone who was considering at that point a career in the ministry, I walked up to one of the women with a sign and I asked her if she thought that her actions were going to be at all effective. Basically I said I thought she was doing a better job of getting people to hate Christians than she was at getting people to be one. In response, she quoted the verse above.

There are really two sides to that verse. To those of us who are in comfortable situations, I think it's a challenge. Can you really live the life Jesus called us to live and be completely comfortable? Or is there are part of the redemptive lifestyle that will always be a little bit uncomfortable? When we're called to be generous (more on this later), can we ever really be comfortable having an abundance? If we worship in a church or a congregation where everybody agrees with us, will we ever grow? The redemptive lifestyle (at least at first) is a little uncomfortable.

But then I go back to that lady in the oak grove. Should we actually be out looking for trouble? Should we be poking people with a stick and then running and hiding behind this verse? I don't think so, and there's one line that gives credibility to that thought: ..."and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely..." Jesus seems to understand that people are going to make stuff up about us. They are going to claim things that simply aren't true about the followers of Jesus. But if people are claiming things that are absolutely true about us, and those things are troublesome, then we need to re-examine our actions.

Yes, disciples will find themselves in trouble from time to time. But that doesn't mean we should go looking for it.

More later today.



Mixed Messages


Hello friends,
Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I promise this week I'll get back to the Disciples are series, and even though Ed's series on writing as a ministry has past, I'll post that soon as well. Things have been crazy around here.

On Sunday afternoon, I had a pretty jarring phone call from a friend informing me that one of our band mates from Westminster's Bridge service was in a pretty bad motorcycle accident. We heard that things were touch and go for a couple of days, and then on Tuesday he passed away. He was one of the goofiest guys on the planet for sure, but he had a heart that was three times the size of most people, and just a terrific guy to be around.

In the days following his passing, I kept getting phone calls from people telling me how sorry they were that he had passed. Facebook and Twitter were a flurry of activity as people were offering their condolences. Don't get me wrong, I really appreciated my web family (should I even be typing that...yikes...) showing their support as I lost a friend. But something seemed off about the whole thing. Something seemed wrong about people telling me that they were sorry. And I couldn't quite place it until my sister called me.

She asked me towards the end of the conversation "Can you even imagine the party Alan and Jesus are having right now?" Once I got past the image of Jesus (you know, the white guy in the bathrobe we all have in our churches) dancing to disco music with multi-colored lights in the background, I realized what had been so unsettling about people offering their condolences. My pastor had it even better a while back when he told me he complained to the Presbytery office, because when they sent out some announcement e-mails from time to time they would write "It is with great sadness that we announce that John Doe has entered the Kingdom Triumphant." It's one or the other, you are either sad that a person is no longer a part of your life, or you're ecstatic that they're with the Lord.

Now, as previously mentioned, there's an appropriate time for mourning. There's a time for grieving and crying and all of the natural pieces of grief when a person dies. But for me, Alan was the closest friend I've had die (you could argue I was much closer with my grandmother, but she had alzheimer's pretty bad, so I wasn't incredibly close with her when she passed), and the truth of the matter is that I sit here today at my kitchen table, and I tell you I am convinced Alan is in the Kingdom of God right now. I'm certain of it. It's a fact.

So I want to be happy in the midst of great loss. I want to giggle at the thought of Alan starting a dodgeball tournament in heaven. I want to be jealous of the amazing rock band I'm sure he's already formed. I want to rejoice that he's met the Savior. And until I see that big dufusy face again, I want to live the way he lived, knowing that people matter, and that tiny things can bring about huge change for the kingdom.

Godspeed Alan,


Interview with an Author II: Electric Bugaloo


One of my favorite moments in the three years (!) that I've been working on J-Blog is the time Ed Cyzewski stopped by for an interview to help promote his book Coffeehouse Theology. What started as a book review turned into a friendship I cherish. Ed even came to Pittsburgh for a weekend a few years ago and hung out at our house. It's been great to get to know him over the years.

His new book (as you can tell from the video) is called A Path To Publishing. As someone who has tinkered with the idea of publishing a book sometime in his life, I am here to tell you that this book is a MUST get. It isn't a book so much about how to write (though there's some of that in there too), but what to do with your writing to take it to the next level. You'll learn everything from what an agent does and why you'll need one to how to handle rejection in an incredibly competitive publishing industry. This book is not meant to be read once and put away, this book is meant to sit on your desk (or in your iPad, or whatever) for years to come as a valuable resource to all writers everywhere.

So, for a little bit of nostalga, I e-mailed Ed yet another round of interview questions. So if you'll permit me to put on my journalist hat, let's dive in and get to know Ed a little bit better!

1. You mention that this book should be viewed as your version of sitting down with a hopeful author and sharing a cup of coffee. So the first question OBVIOUSLY has to be, what's your favorite coffee beverage and from where do you get it?

That's a tough question to answer since I don't have too many options in Storrs, CT. I like hanging at this little cafe by UConn's art museum since it's quiet and cheap, though a Starbucks in town usually suffices since the locally owned joint, about 10 minutes away, is usually pretty crowded. I enjoy a mocha like any other guy, but remember, I'm a writer. I need a cheap option. I'm all about a medium cup of Earl Grey tea.

2. What led you to write such a practical book? Certainly the market needs this, and it's going to be a huge benefit to a lot of people, but where did the inspiration for such a project come from?

After I published my first book friends, family, and complete strangers contacted me, asking how they too could publish some day. There is so much to do in order to publish a book, and I realized that my e-mails were ridiculously long, so I made an outline and started to send it to them. Then I gave presentations on how to publish that were a huge hit. So it seemed like the most natural progression was to write a simple introductory book to the process. I think the need is there since publishing is changing right now, and authors need to be aware of their options.

3. Is it kind of ironic to self publish a book about publishing? Did the experience lead to any interesting learning experiences for the book?

It's really ironic. I caught myself writing advice that I followed for my first book, but didn't necessarily follow for this one because it's a different project. The biggest lesson is that writing and self-publishing is a huge amount of work. It's so much work that you can't even imagine it if you haven't done it before. Having commercially published, I knew what to expect and could plan accordingly. I knew how the editing would go, how much time that required, and how to write with a particular audience in mind. Without an editor walking me through all of that during the first book, I doubt I could have self-published a decent book.

4. After reading chapter 5, I sort of got this image in my head of an agent.

All kidding aside, I wonder how it was you found your agent and what kind of role they had in a self-published situation?

Agents have no role in a self-publishing situation other than informally advising you when you ask for help. You're all alone with it. However, if you have an agent who cares about investing in your long term career, your agent should be able to advise you on how to proceed with self-publishing. Agents are there to pitch your work to commercial publishers, to negotiate contracts, to smooth over any problems, and to help you submit solid proposals that have a higher chance of being accepted. I see agents as an insurance policy to a certain degree. My current agent was my former editor at NavPress. I was working with an agent at one firm, but she left to go back to graduate school. They suggested I sign on with my former editor who recently joined WordServe Literary since we had a great time developing Coffeehouse Theology together. As for searching out your own agent, read the blogs of literary agents and publishers and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. In the Christian market (and beyond) you can learn a ton from the likes of Michael Hyatt, Rachelle Gardner, and Chip MacGregor. Janet Reid and Nathan Bransford are two other top blogging agents who have long blogrolls you can check out. Read their web sites and then follow their instructions precisely.

5. Combining the book with a pretty obvious addiction I may or may not have, do you think things like the iPad or Kindle or various other e-readers change any aspect of being an author? What would be the biggest "game changer" they bring to the table?

Authors need to think about how readers engage information and stories. For example, people who buy the latest hardback fiction books are all over e-readers since it's a cheaper way to get a book they would most likely drop off at the library book sale when done with it. Why not pay less to read it on a Kindle or iPad? The same goes for topics such as technology and politics: we already consume this information in digital form, so those kinds of books are an easy switch to digital formats as well. The game-changer will be integrating video (see vook.com), audio, and other features into eBooks. This will be a creative gold rush where authors can tell stories in a variety of formats. However, authors are still asking the same old question, "How can I create a product that someone will pay money to buy?" Digital formats just open fresh possibilities and make distribution a lot easier.

6. It seems as though a lot of the thoughts and ideas that come in the book come from your own personal disappointments and setbacks. Did you start to get a feeling that you would share these while they were happening, or was it difficult to see the silver lining?

I was too wrapped up in the struggles of publishing to think of them as a future book. When I started writing Coffeehouse Theology I intended to post a series on my blog about the experience, but I never realized writing a book would take so much time! During the hard times of publishing I had to tell myself that every job has bad days. You can't let your work define who you are, but that's a hard lesson to learn because books can feel very personal.

7. In chapter 7, you talk about a writer's wage. Don't you think that should have been in chapter one? :) Seriously though, a lot of authors get in the game because they think it will make them famous. How do you encourage them while at the same time keeping them grounded?

I probably should have mentioned the money bit in every chapter! You should only try to write a book because you care about the story or your subject enough to make some huge sacrifices for it. Anything you gain by way of money or fame is great, but it's not guaranteed. It's very tough to write full time and to make a respectable wage. However, if your goals are not necessarily tied to fame or money, then you can enjoy success when you connect with readers. The experience of connecting with readers is what's best about being a writer. Writing a book also makes you more attractive to magazine editors and online sites looking for writers, so a book can help open new doors for writers who are looking to connect their ideas with readers. In fact, publishing is simply sharing information and stories with readers, and there are many ways writers can do that. Once writers see it that way, a book is but one means to that end.

8. You talk about having one or two side projects in the wings as you're working, so you've already got a jump start on what comes next. So what kinds of things are you working on now that we might see later?

I have a book proposal on discipleship that doesn't have any takers, so I'm working on some fiction and a Christian theology book that should be unlike anything else out there. Stay tuned for more on that one. The fiction is set in a world where every novel is tied directly to product placement and the plot of every novel is dictated by advertising agencies. It also involves a rogue underground POD machine up in the semi-autonomous region of Vermont. Epic it shall be...

9. It seems like the website (www.pathtopublishing.com) is set up to be updated pretty regularly for folks with the latest resources for writers in the industry. Do you see your role as a mentor to fledgling authors being bigger than just this book? (Hint: That's a good thing!)

I don't see www.pathtopublishing.com as a regularly updated blog, but rather a place that will introduce the book and then give readers of the book some next steps in publishing. I see myself connecting new writers with the information they need to take good first steps into publishing. I'm a bridge builder who connects new writers with the information they need. New writers need to make investments into their writing careers wisely, and when you could spend $100 to $200 on a writing conference to ask all of the questions I answer, I think A Path to Publishing is a bargain at $10 or $15.

$10 Ebook at Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/a-path-to-publishing-what-i-learned-by-publishing-a-nonfiction-book/10262511?productTrackingContext=search_results/search_shelf/center/1

$15 paperback book at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Path-Publishing-What-Learned-Nonfiction/dp/1451580584/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_4

I would suggest that publishing hopefuls read the samples on my web site, and buy the book before going to a publishing conference. Spend your time at the conference putting my book into practice, rather than asking a top literary agent from New York City, "How do I find an agent?" If you read my book, you'll know that you should have contacted that agent via Twitter before the conference and set up an appointment for lunch. And yes, you are buying. For the latest news on publishing and tips on writing, I suggest that readers check out my writing site:www.edcyz.com. They'll find a few posts each week with writing tips and they can also sign up for my monthly e-mail newsletter with an article on writing and a list of helpful writing links.

10. Maybe my favorite sentence in the whole book comes in the last chapter. "Dare to call yourself a writer." I think it's amazing that you're willing to invest so much into young and aspiring authors. Who were the people in your life that encouraged you along the way?

I had this teacher during my Sophomore year of high school who said that I'm a very good writer. That's where something clicked for me, but I didn't start to call myself a writer until a friend of ours insisted upon it. She said, "You're a writer, now you just need some fame and fortune." My former agent also encouraged me to think of my writing as a ministry, which has broadened my vision for what I do as a writer. Writers write. Some do it better than others and some are paid more, but if you want to become a writer, there's only one thing that you need to do. As far as investing in young writers, I think it's important to help others identify what matters to them, and for a writer with a dream to publish a book, there are a ton of obstacles. I draw life from the process of helping aspiring writers make their dreams happen. Unfortunately many book ideas, including most of my own, are just good ideas and not good books. So, I hope that I can help new writers figure out what will work before they invest too much into a concept that will flop.

11. Seriously, how weird is it to have the Flyers playing for the cup right now?

I had such low expectations for them. Remember, they replaced their coach early in the season and made it into the play offs by winning a SHOOT OUT! I hate shoot outs, but my wife is always quick to remind me about that game. I honestly just wanted them to beat New Jersey, which is always good for the soul. However, even with them down by two games, they're giving Chicago a rough series and they have a shot, though Chicago is probably the better team. Just a few bounces here or there could change everything...

Thanks to Ed for stopping by. Please do purchase his book, and be sure to check out his blog often for the latest updates on Writing.

Speaking of which, sometime tomorrow I'm going to be doing a post about Writing As a Ministry, in a blog to blog series with Ed. Make sure to visit Ed's theology blog to get caught up on the series so far.

And of course, since this is my blog, and I get the last word...