Deep Posts: Help!


Hello friends!

Every time I preach a sermon, I almost always walk away thinking "Man, I wish I would have had more time to elaborate on this point or that point." Today was no different, except that today I woke up and remembered that I have a blog where I can expand upon any idea I darn well feel like it. So if you were at the Bridge this morning, this is a bit of a deeper exploration than what we went through this morning. If you weren't, well then hopefully this is just thought provoking.

In Psalm 50, God prescribes for us what praise should actually look like:

"Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." (Psalm 50:14-15 NIV)

We have this idea brewing in the American psyche that we need to be able to accomplish anything and overcome any obstacle that lies in our way completely on our own. I'm not sure where this came from, but I'm fairly certain we can all blame John Wayne, or perhaps Chuck Norris. But I am no exception. I know that there are times in my life that while I desperately need somebody's help, I will not ask for it. There will typically be a conversation in my head that includes rationalization, and a desire to not look like a sissy or a wimp or whatever word is going through my head at the time.

Ultimately, this is a rather destructive approach to life. There are a few things that happen when we take on the maccho man (or woman) bravado of figuring things out for ourselves:

1. We can't do it.

This should come as no shock to anyone. We know this going into certain situations don't we? "There's no way I can do this on my own..." we say as we proceed to the starting line without the rest of the team. I don't know how many times I've failed at doing something because I thought I could do it on my own. Or perhaps a better way of saying it, I don't know how many times I could have done something better if I had just sucked it up and asked a friend or two for help.

2. We alienate ourselves from the community.

God's word is clear time and time again that you and I were created for community. It's in our blood, it's in our DNA. God hard-wired us to need each other, and when we put on the tough guy routine, we begin to shift our way out of the community. Of course, you've got to ask yourself, how tough can you really be if you're running away from the design of the Creator of tough?

3. We lose opportunity to praise.

This was the new revelation to me this week as I was preparing for the sermon. In Psalm 50:15, God tells us that we bring him honor when we ask him to help us. Think about that for a second. Asking God for help is not a sign of weakness. It is not a sign of your life falling apart around you. It isn't even a sign of a weak faith. In fact, just the opposite. Asking God for help is actually an act of praise. Having the boldness to take our entire person and place it in the hands of the creator takes a kind of trust that few people are comfortable with. But placing that kind of trust in the creator is to proclaim to ourselves and those around us that he is trustworthy, and that he deserves to be praised.

So, it's time to drop the John Wayne impersonations. If you're anything like me, you long ago realized they weren't working anyway. Let's take some time together this week and Praise God, by being bold enough to ask him to help us when we need it. I think we'll all be pretty amazed to see what he comes up with to rescue us!



Word play: Rescue


2007 Volvo XC70 Catalina Island Rescue Unit Front And Side 1280x960

Hello faithful readers!


Ever have a word get stuck in your head? Like a fire ant that has climbed into your cerebellum and decided to make it's nest in your consciousness, this word has grabbed your attention and will not let go? Well, even if you haven't, play along with me.


I've been working through a few books and scripture studies lately in an attempt to get myself prepared for the upcoming season of Veritas, and I'm stumbling over these words that used to have my attention, but no longer seem to have the grip they used to. And the more I'm reading, the more I'm discovering, these words are essential to a Christ-Centered Life, and they need to be picked up and reclaimed. Today's word is rescue.


The truth of the matter is that all of humanity finds itself in a dangerous or harmful situation on a daily basis. We harm each other with alarming regularity. The things that we do to each other on the internet alone should probably qualify as war crimes for the soul. Our words rip and tear at each other so that we have the perceived feeling of being raised up when really all we've done is torn another person down. And all of that is before we even get to the unimaginable harm we do to each other physically, both intentional (wars, stealing lunch money, rape) and unintentional (ignoring the poor, ignorant of suffering, holding on to all the food ourselves while someone else goes to bed hungry). We are horrible to each other.


But then I think about some of what's going on in my world, and without turning the faithful J-Blog into my person therapy session, I've realized in recent weeks that I am capable of doing all that harm to myself with very little help from the outside world. I talk myself down. I beat myself up. I say things to myself that I would never say to any other human being. While it's not always this way, I'm realizing that I can be a total wreck.


Of course, in the Christian faith we have a language for this too. We call it Sin, and it is the engine driving the injury we inflict on ourselves and others. When we aren't busy using it as a weapon against each other (see paragraph above), we start to realize that everyone is a sinner. We realize that it's inescapable. We find ourselves in a situation not unlike Indiana Jones being stuck in quicksand. There's no way out, and thrashing against ourselves or other people only makes us sink faster.


And hence, the importance of the word rescue. We believe firmly that Jesus rescues us from the dangerous or harmful situations others have brought upon us, as well as those we place ourselves in. Like a coast guard diver who leaps from the helicopter into the choppy water, Jesus leapt from the right hand of God and came into our world and experienced our hurts, our desires, our temptations, and even our death, purely and simply so that he could provide us with rescue. His blood shed on the cross was a promise that we would never have to deal with sin again.


Of course, the struggle is that we are in the already/but not yet. For as much as we look forward to the life to come in the Kingdom of God, we still live in the world that everyone has universally agreed is falling apart at the seems. But rescue is here, and rescue is coming. Christ frees us from the harmful situations we place ourselves in, and offers us the ability to forgive those who place us in harmful situations. And in the end, the ultimate rescue of the Kingdom founded on earth as it is in heaven will be ours to enjoy forever.


Praise God for Rescue!





Scripture Deficency




Greetings friends!


A few days ago, I realized that something was a little bit off in my world. Not major off, but I was just discovering that I was all around irritable. A little bit beyond that, I kept finding myself doubting my own abilities, and feeling a bit unworthy of certain things. I get this way from time to time, and you would think that by now I would know the reason why and the cure to the affliction (hint: it's the same thing)


I realized that I wasn't spending any time in the scriptures at all. This is always a tricky area for those of us who work in the church I think, because we confuse the time we spend in the scripture for work (writing sermons, leading small groups, etc) as the time we should be spending in the scriptures for US. During my biblical drought, I bet I opened the bible every single day (if that sentence even makes sense!). The problem was, I was reading it for someone else, not for myself.


We have affirmed that the bible is the living word of God. In truth, the way I read that is that the bible is the only book on the planet that actually read you back. God communicates to his people through his word, and when you're always reading the bible with a mind to find tidbits of information for someone else, you're probably missing what God has to say to you. And it has been my experience that because the bible actually reads you back, it knows exactly what you need to hear at any given moment, whether it's challenge or encouragement, or a dollop of both.


So for my own growth, I took a whole new approach. I've made it pretty clear on this blog that for preaching/teaching, I'm a big fan of the TNIV (although, I have a New International Version from 2011, and I have to say that so far I'm a fan). So to keep me from making this about other people, I reached for a copy of Eugene Peterson's The Message. I've started a study through Isaiah, using Lectio Divina, and I can say for certain the God is speaking to me through the pages of his scriptures. I mean, if someone who is carrying around doubts and worries reads things like "Don't be like this people, always afraid somebody is plotting again them. Don't fear what they fear. Don't take on their worries." or "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows--Light! sunbursts of light!" they are sure to understand that God is speaking to them, as was the case with me.


So let me encourage you my friends, get into the word. Particularly if you're a church worker of some kind, don't forget to read the bible for yourself from time to time. God has some things to say to us too!





I need your help! (Please read!)


Web livestrong 01

Hello friends!


This past June, you helped me achieve what I thought would never be possible. Together, we raised over $1000 to fight MS. Your donations fueled my ride, and together we inspired several folks who are suffering from that disease. I would never have thought that we would raise over a grand, nor that I would have been able to ride 150 miles in two days! What we accomplished was simply miraculous!


Inspired by our work together, I set my sights on another charity that is very near and dear to my heart: The LIVESTRONG foundation. The foundation started by Lance Armstrong benefits thoughts living with cancer, and those who have survived and need further assistance. Let's face it, I've been sold out to LIVESTRONG for a long while now, so when we were so successful with Bike MS, I signed up for the LIVESTRONG challenge in Philadelphia.


The challenge is one week away, and I am $125 away from the minimum donation required to ride. I've been training hard for weeks, and feel like I'm in the best shape of my (admittedly short) cycling career. If I don't have $250 in donations by Saturday, I will sadly not be able to ride in the LIVESTRONG challenge.


We don't need big time donations here. If just a few of us can get together and offer $5, I think you'll be amazed at how quickly we can reach our goal. Together, we can make folks living with cancer know that they are loved, and that we support them.


Your support means the world to me! I'll have live updates on Twitter from the ride, so if you are able to donate, keep the journey going by following along with the updates.


To donate, visit





A great article worth reading!


Open bible

Hello friends!


Just a quick update today. I've been working through a lot of what I think about the Bible, and how we read it, and how the way we read it these days may not be the best way (or, for that matter, biblical). While I'm going to continue to mull over these thoughts for a few more days, I came across an extremely well worded article that I completely agree with, so I thought I'd share it with you all to get the gears spinning.


Other than that, I'm back to work this week, so that probably means a few less posts. Hopefully we'll be able to get a couple of other hits up in the next week or so. Veritas returns very soon, and I have some thoughts to share about that as well!




Dreamer: What kind of pastor will I be?

Hello friends,

I've been reading Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor as I get ready to dive into Seminary this fall. First of all, it's a really good book that I'm hoping to review here at the J-Blog as soon as I finish, but it got me thinking about what kind of pastor I will end up being when I finish my time at PTS.

This is how my brain is wired, and I understand it's different for everybody else, but I am so much a dreamer. I get caught up in imagining what kind of church I'll pastor. Will it be a big one or a small one? An old one, or one that I've planted myself? What kind of congregation will I have? Who will be the people that I love to hang out with and grow in faith with, and who will be the people who make me want to rip my fingernails off (come on, we all know they're out there)? Or will I stick with youth ministry for a real long time, try to find an ordained position?  Sometimes this week, I've been just closing my eyes on the beach, and dreaming of what life will be like in the (sigh) nine years it will take me to wrap up this degree.

I think dreaming is important. Like I said, I know that most people don't dream the way I do, but for me it's so critical. It's like the GPS to my life, mapping out what dreams are worth following and which are dead ends. Some dreams are short, like the current dream of taking a nap on the beach in a couple of hours. Some are big, like trying to figure out what my future holds. But either way, dreaming is a big part of my life, and I wonder if it shouldn't be a bigger part of all of our lives.

God seems to enjoy the dreamers. Joseph comes to mind. It's a story worth reading a a couple of levels, because Joseph's dreams got him in a lot of trouble, as ours will from time to time. But in the end, it seems to me at least that God rewards the dreamers. Take a look at King David. For as much as he was the mighty king and warrior, he writes Psalms in a way that indicates that he knows how to let his mind go, to play with imagery and dreams. This, scripture tells us, was a man after God's own heart.

So what are your dreams? Where does your mind wander when you give it enough time? What scares you about being a dreamer?

Till next time,



Book review: Love Wins and Erasing Hell

Hello friends!

As I previously mentioned, while in Africa I took some time to read Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Love Wins by Rob Bell back to back, which provided some interesting insight to this theological discussion by two of my favorite authors/speakers/pastors out there.

Before we dig in, a few thoughts:

#1) Let's be civil
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I'm discovering more and more the importance of civil discussion and debate among us in the Christian world. I know that both of these books have raised some eyebrows and some temperatures in the blogosphere lately, and I'm sure that my words here will be no different. I only ask that if we're going to wade into a discussion in the comments here that we do so lovingly and with grace and kindness and respect. Anything less isn't worthy of our calling to the Way.

#2) Let's watch the "H" word. 
No, not hell. That word we'll probably use a lot here. I mean heretic. I've seen that word thrown around a lot in this discussion, and I'm honestly quite appalled by it. There are times when we're meant to label something heretical, or someone a heretic, but I think we've taken to using it far too much in our time. Really, I'm seeing it used for groups of people who have a disagreement with a particular tribe church or denomination. If this person doesn't line up with our doctrine statement, we throw the "H" word at them.

In my humble opinion, these are two throughly dedicated guys who took a hard look at the Scriptures, and came to two different decisions about them. Neither is outside the realm of Orthodox Christianity (just ask C.S. Lewis, Augustine, or Gregory of Nyssa). So while we might disagree on some points, let's be careful with the name calling and labeling.

Now, on to the books. Let's start with Francis Chan.

For as much as some people are saying that this book is not a direct response to Love Wins, it sure acts like one. Rob Bell is quoted in almost every chapter, but in a way that kind of looks to me like Chan was working on this book for a while before Bell's came out, so they added those quotes at the last minute. I think Chan believed what he believes well before Bell's book arrives on the scene, he's just hoping on the hype train (who could blame him?)

This book is a summary of what has been the typical classical evangelical Christian teaching for the last 100 years or so, mainly that those who do not accept Jesus Christ in this life are doomed to some sort of punishment or destruction in hell. Actually, Chan isn't quite sold on conscious eternal torment or just a simple end of life. But either way, in Chan's view, hell is eternal. No second chances as prescribed in Love Wins.

What I liked
1) I really liked the heart Francis Chan had in the writing of this book. He says accurately: "It forces me back to a sobering reality: This is not just about doctrine; it's about destinies. And if you're reading this book and wrestling with what the Bible says about hell, you cannot let this be a mere academic exercise." Paragraphs just like this one litter the book, and make you realize that Chan understands that people won't appreciate what he's suggesting, and neither does he. He just understands it as truth. For as cold and unwelcoming as the discussion about heaven and hell have been lately, Chan is heartbroken and gentle, and we need more people like that in the world.

2) Francis Chan did his homework for this book, which is what led me to believe that this was written or at least started well before Love Wins hit the shelves. An untold amount of research and bible study went into this book, and I for one think that more books could benefit from this. Rather than just opening our mouths and spouting our opinions, we ought to make sure that we're taking a hard look at the scriptures. Anything else is just opinion, which is worth while but not all that weighty.

What I didn't like
1) There was some false advertising in this book right from the start. In the introduction, Chan says "I'm not going to hang on to the idea of hell simply because it's what my tradition tells me to believe. And neither should you." He follows that up with saying "...if it's true, if the Bible does teach that there is a literal hell awaiting those who don't believe in Jesus, then this reality must change us." The introduction makes it sound (as least to me) that Chan intends to check tradition at the door, and rely squarely on the scriptures. This is typically Chan's M.O., and honestly I looked forward to it. But then through the book every scripture was read in light of a theologian or particular theological background, as though their way to read it was the only way to read it. I found myself saying "That's nice that they feel that way Francis, but I'm interested in how you read it."

Don't get me wrong: Tradition and theology are critical in our Christian beliefs, and leaning heavily on them is important and good. But not if you tell me in the introduction that this is more about the scriptures than it is about your tradition. This is probably more my own disappointment rather than a flaw in the book, but there it is all the same.

2) There was a footnote that actually made me physically upset to read. It's a note on Matthew 25:31-46. The footnote (#3 in Chapter 5 specifically) says "In the context, Jesus is talking about impoverished Christians, not any poor person. This is clear from Jesus' description of the poor as 'these brothers of Mine.'" I could not disagree with this interpretation of this scripture any more. I've been pouring over this passage for a long time, and never came to the conclusion that it was meant for Christian poor folks only. First of all, caring for people and mission work are two of the finest ways to bring non-Christians into the most wonderful Way of life that's out there. Secondly, Jesus didn't really have an intention to start a new religion, did he? So why is it that he would give a teaching in which the people to be affected by it were in a particular religion? That doesn't seem to make sense to me. Lastly, Jesus had a heart for everybody, including Gentiles (see the Roman Centurion in Matthew 8:5). In all my readings of the Gospels, I've never seen Jesus putting fences up around who can get help and who can't. I love you Francis, but I think you got it wrong here.

3) Lastly, it's not the best writing in the world. I won't hold that against him, but it was kind of hard to work through at times. The sections surrounding Love Wins in particular seemed rushed, and so the writing takes a noticeable dip there. But hey, you guys put up with the garbage that I write, and this book is way better than that!

First of all, it's important to note that this book has an incredibly different goal than Erasing Hell. The later is a theology book, meant to clarify a particular doctrine statement. Bell outlines a different agenda in the introduction of Love Wins:

"I've written this book for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused their pulse rate to rise, their stomach to churn, and their heart to utter those resolute words, 'I would never be a part of that.'"

So rather than having the direct objective of clarifying a particular theology, Bell intends this book to be an encouragement to the disenfranchised who NEED to see Christ in a different light if they have any hope of getting behind Him. Now obviously to do that Bell includes some theological statements and doctrines, but I think it's important to note that it's meant for another purpose.

Bell's idea is that heaven and hell are choices we make, both in this life and in the life to come. He affirms what Presbyterians have long stated, that God's love is irresistible, and that given enough time, everyone will come to know that love. Even if it's in the afterlife.

What I liked
1) Rob Bell is not afraid of complexity. This book makes it clear that salvation is quite simple, as it is found in Jesus Christ and in Christ alone (anyone who denies this about Bell's book hasn't read it), but the way that salvation is worked out is a rather complex thing. What does believing in Jesus really mean? Is it saying a prayer? Is it a lifestyle? Is it what you do? How can you tell who believes in Jesus and who's just saying they do? It's a complex discussion, and if we're honest, it requires a lot of extra thought on our end. I need a faith that has such complexity. I need something that goes way beyond surface comfort and happy feelings. I need a Holy Spirit who will take me deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole with every scripture I read.

2) Rob Bell uses scripture as much if not more than Francis Chan to build his argument. Somewhere along the way people started saying that Bell has either a low-view of scripture, or that he doesn't place himself under it's authority. I know I'm one of the biggest Rob Bell fans on the face of the planet, so perhaps I'm biased, but I really truly believe that he built a position entirely on Scripture here in Love Wins. You may not like his interpretations, or the conclusions that he comes to. But that's a different discussion. Like Chan, Bell has absolutely done his homework, and it shows.

What I didn't like
(Yes, there are a few things about a book Rob Bell wrote that I don't like. I'll give you a second to recover...)

1) Unlike Chan, I had a hard time with Bell's attitude in this book at several places. It's almost as if he can feel his critics coming, and so he develops this downright snarky attitude in places that I can honestly do with out. Granted, I don't know what it's like to be the subject of every blog post and the bullseye for every sermon in the country for a couple of weeks, so perhaps I'd develop a snarky attitude too. But given how much I desire to have a respectful and honest debate about these books, I was disappointed to say the least about the tone taken in certain places in Love Wins. (Note, this is hard to quote in the blog, as it usually involves a long paragraph followed by a snarky comment at the end. As I've been advocating all along with this book, it's probably better for you to read it for yourself and see what I'm talking about)

2) Chapter 7 deals heavily with the Prodigal Son story found in Luke. To try to summarize an entire chapter in a few lines or less, when you get to the end of the Prodigal Son story you find the older son miserable outside the party being thrown for the younger son. Bell's assumption then is that "In this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other."

Now, this gets messy, because in addition to believing in real afterlife heaven and a real afterlife hell (again, anyone who says he doesn't hasn't read the book), Bell also believes that heaven and hell are happening here on earth. In that sense, it makes sense that heaven and hell could be rubbing elbows in the very same place based upon the kinds of choices people were willing to make about their own stories. But this is confusing at best in this chapter, and I think it could lead to a bit of confusion. I'd have liked to have a little bit of clarification on this position. But then again, I didn't write the book.

Wrapping it all up. 

So what can we learn from these two books?

Two very serious, very dedicated Christian men have read almost exactly the same scriptures, studied them, prayed about them, and came to two radically different conclusions. What does that say to us? That one must have prayed wrong and there for got it wrong? Or does it mean that the Holy Spirit wants to stir the pot, and help us debate it among ourselves for a bit? (Anyone who doesn't see the Holy Spirit as a rouser of rabel isn't seeing the whole picture)

My guess is that the truth lies somewhere between the two extreme views put forth by these authors, and I don't know what that looks like. But that's the beauty of a situation like this, it invites us to discover and dig into God's word for ourselves. Rather than picking one of the sides and defending it tooth and nail, what does it look like to find the holes in both positions and try to sort out for ourselves where the truth lies?

And so that's what I'd like for us to do here at the J-Blog. Where do these authors stand on these issues, and how is it different from where you stand? Remember to answer that question in a way that explores our faith, rather than defending it. I think that will make all the difference. To help, I'm humbly asking that no one comment on this post unless you've read Love Wins, Erasing Hell, or both. Opinions are great, but opinions based on rumors can be rather toxic to a good conversation.

May God bless the conversation.



What the debt ceiling taught me about civil dialogue.

Hello friends,

There have been a confluence of things going on in my world the last couple of days that have reminded me that it's absolutely critical for Christians (well, really we could broaden that to include all humans, but let's be simple here to start) to posses the ability to talk about the things we might disagree about in a civil, loving, and supportive way.

For starters, this whole debt ceiling debacle that wrapped up just a few moments ago (the major lesson we can take from this is that my government thinks that my procrastination problem is ok). On Sunday, Sarah and I were watching the news while we were getting ready for vacation, and saw a debate take place on the floor of the Senate. The debate was between John McCain and Dick Durbin, two people who probably couldn't disagree less when it came to the issue of the debt ceiling. And they went back and forth, and they debated. Not like fighting or arguing, but like an honest debate between two people who disagree. They respected each other. They respected the room they were standing in. They respected their peers. They agreed with each other when they found the little areas of similarity, and they were sure to point those out. I bet neither of them changed their minds, or their votes. But for a few brief minutes in a months long shouting match, I saw something refreshing take place on the floor of the Senate, and it warmed my heart.

Then, as we were driving up on vacation, we entered into theological discussion with our friends Luke and Jessie. We come from vastly different church backgrounds, and this of course has led to very different views on a wide range of subjects. And even though we were 1) in New Jersey and 2) stuck in traffic, I saw the same sort of patience and respect and love for each other that I saw in the Senate debate. Let's face it, when you start talking religion or politics, these are the kinds of discussions that can wreck a whole congregation, let alone two pairs of friends. And yet we got out of the car in New York smiling, and happy, with our friendships still intact.

We're human beings, so of course everyone will eventually find a place where they disagree with their brother or sister. What if we could do that in a loving way? And by that I mean, what if our disagreements were held up to the light of 1 Corinthians 13?

Are our disagreements patient? Are they kind? Do they envy? Do we boast in our disagreements? Are we too proud? I know that I have been in some debates and arguments where I wouldn't be able to honestly say that about myself, and my heart breaks for that. Hopefully I can work on that so that all of my debates and discussions sound a lot like the one I had in the car with my friends on Sunday night.

Also, the timing of this post isn't lost on me at all. Tomorrow, we review Erasing Hell and Love Wins back to back. As I'm sure we're going to spur a lot of debate in the comments, let's try to keep this post in mind first!



Book Review: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me

Greetings from NYC!

Sarah and I are joined by Luke and Jessie here at Breezy Point for a week of chilling by the beach, chilling on the porch, chilling in the city, and really chilling anywhere we can find. We've got a fridge full of Coke, and computers ready for blogging, so let's get to it!

While I was on my way to Africa last week, I knew that I wanted to read as much as I possibly could. I actually worked my way through three books, the first of which was Ian Morgan Cron's book Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me. Somehow, I missed the fact that Cron was also the author Chasing Francis, a book I enjoyed incredibly for it's ties to a hypothetical CD that my hypothetical band may or may not be releasing on October 4th. (If you were wondering what the theme of our CD way, I essentially just gave it away!)

I have always been a big fan of memoir as a genre of writing. It's the style I feel most at home writing in, and definitely the style I feel most at home reading. Cron has a wit and a sense of humor that speaks directly to my heart. Jesus...and Me has an excellent style, and an incredible subject matter. Though I agree with my good friend Ed Cyzewski that this subject matter (rough childhood and how it impacts a person's faith) is a bit overdone in the bookstores right now, I think each story is different, and each story has something to teach us. This story in particular did kind of fizzle out in terms of the CIA and how that impacted Cron's relationship with his father, but I also kind of imagine that the situation fizzled out in his life in a way that was less than what he expected.

All in, I thought it was a tremendous read. Super quick to get through, and a fitting book for a sumer beach read if that's your thing.

Coming soon, I read Francis Chan's Erasing Hell and Rob Bell's Love Wins back to back. I'll review them together!

Till then!