Friday, November 02, 2012


I was in seminary class tonight and our prof invited us to a lecture from a guy who wrote a book on the more popular question: "why do bad things happen to good people?"  Almost everyone has asked the question themselves many times over- if not vocally, then unconsciously many times over.  Most are sick of trite answers to it and the truth is, many have left faith in God all together due to their inability to find peace with this unanswered question in their lives.  I mean really, "If God is good, then what is the deal with this pain?"

No way in a blog post could we even come close to an answer in any conclusive manner, so let me just stir the pot some to get us chasing for it....

First, it's worth noting that the classic "why do bad things happen to good people?" is an ancient question in which many Biblical Scholars believe the first book of the Bible to be written was not Genesis, but rather Job.  Which, in case you are unfamiliar, is a book almost exclusively dedicated to the wrestling match of why bad things are happening to a man named Job and his family.

Then tonight I listened to Brian Williams host a show on the devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to homes and the lives of those in New Jersey, Staten Island and beyond.  No doubt the question is racing through some without the basic needs of food/water/shelter and literally cold and in the dark tonight.  We'd be fools to ignore the reality of the questions: "Why me?"  "What did I do to deserve this?"

In that same broadcast, I listened to a woman cry tears of sadness over the loss of everything she and her 65 year old husband worked for all their lives.  He just retired.  The house was paid off.  Now the house is gone and so is everything they ever owned or acquired.  I heard the man who owned the Jersey Shore's roller coaster that is no more explain how his whole life was completely transformed in one 8-hour storm.

I had a conversation yesterday where I was telling someone the woes of my #cursedkitchen and the car engine that is leaking oil and yatta yatta when they said, "Well, at least you're standing."  True, I could be a lot worse.  I could have a fire or earthquake or whatever destroy it all. I could be diagnosed with a terminal illness.  I'm sure we could all dream up horrible scenarios that would cause me to ask on a much deeper level, "Why me?"

I was studying Hebrew for class 3 days ago in Starbucks and had to leave because I was too distracted to study. At the table next to me was a translator, a woman from the "make a wish foundation", and a Hispanic man whose whose young daughter is terminally ill and wants to go to Disneyland before she dies.  They were working out the details and I was heart-broken for the man.  I wished I could fix it.

So in the constant ebb and flow of life we all find ourselves echoing the primal cry that unites us with a book about a man named Job who lived somewhere in the pre-Mosaic neighborhood of 4000 years ago.   "Why does all this stuff happen?"

But what about the reverse?   Have you ever wrestled with the other side of this coin?

Why do good things happen to bad people?

Have you ever sat with a young couple who cannot have kids in one afternoon and then tried to counsel a teen who got "accidentally" pregnant and wants to abort her baby the next day?  If you do, you'll not only ask "Why can't this great couple have a kid?"  But you'll also ask, "Why did God bless the teen with a baby in the first place?"  It is equally hard to find rest in that question too.  

Why did so-and-so win the lottery?  Why did that guy get the job?  Why is she so angry and yet she has all the stuff I wanted to have?   Why did Sandy not destroy some mean people's homes?  Surely some great people lost it all.  But equally as sure there were some jerks who care about no one but themselves and are standing in a dry house.

So for what it's worth, let me ask this, "When was the last time you wrestled with the question of the blessing of God?  When was the last time you had an honest discussion with a friend, family member, or teen about the complicated and unpredictable world of blessing and destruction?"

It's worth your time.  In seeking the answer and honestly wrestling with faith, that's where you'll find the real fruit of spiritual truth and the kind of community that truly can and does weather the storms of life together.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Last week I got the chance to be part of "Point Break", which is a ministry of Campus Life and Youth for Christ.  We hosted it at our church for 150 or so students from a middle school campus we partner with.  The goal of the day, as near as I can figure, is for the students to meet together and break down barriers between one another that often lead to prejudices, bullying, and division.  To this end, the day is surprisingly fun and engaging and often results in a very emotional response before it's over.  In that regard, it's almost identical to another program- challenge day- that I participated in at a local high school last year.

In both programs:
  1. First they break down the barrier of personal space- playing games that require proximity.
  2. Then they break down the personal touch barrier and get you connected with even perfect strangers.
  3. Then they break down the trust barrier and get you to share things you normally would either hide from or just simply quietly carry without burdening others with it. 
  4. Lastly, they have you align those stories with others and even offer time for the group to forgive and ask for forgiveness from other people in the room publicly... and you'd be shocked at how many people really do.  It's very moving and powerful.  
To do this, they end the day with an experience called "cross the line".  To do this, they place everyone in complete silence on one side of a line they draw.  Then, very systematically they read off a single sentence or fact and ask students to cross the line if this is true of them.   They start out simple and safe like "If you're 13 years old" or "If your favorite color is blue", etc.  Then they start to get deeper and deeper until you're almost at a public confessional as people admit fears, regrets, scars, and life weights they hold onto and never share with their peers.

As I talked with my randomly chosen small group of 7 earlier in the day, I discovered that 2 of them had fathers in Jail, 1 of them their Dad was murdered, 4 were living with grandparents and no biological parents and almost all expressed a severe and significant disconnect from their dads.  It was deep and tragic stuff.

I helped them share their stories with one another but it didn't hit me the vastness of this problem until the moderator said, "If your parents are divorced, please cross the line."

Sure, I knew it would be a lot of the students, but seriously, it was like 75% of the 150 students in the room.  It was beyond tragic.  It was devastating.  As I stood their staring a the vast majority now looking back at me, my heart simply sank.  

I thought to myself:


Then in my own high school small groups later that same day, two of our guys fully self-initated some struggles they have and opened up about their own father wounds.  They shared what it's like to have a dad who is near them but not present.  In their case, their Dad either lives in their home or they do regular visitation with them, but they nonetheless feel disconnected and wounded by a spiritually, emotionally, or physically absent father.

I've been marinating on this for days and here's my parting conclusions:  

IF YOU'RE A DAD, and you're present in the life of your children.. seriously, you're like a dinosaur in a museum of natural science.  Your kind are virtually extinct among kids today.  Don't stop.  DON'T STOP.  WE NEED YOU!!!!

IF YOU'RE MINISTERING TO YOUTH, then we have to invite students to address, open up about, seek God for strength in, and wrestle with the issues that an absentee father has had on many of them.  Far too many of them are quietly carrying a crushing weight that they desperately need help to off-load.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012


In our staff meeting today we talked about the constant need as pastors to make good decisions. However, the need to make not just good decisions, but great decisions, quickly leads one to realized that the power to decide stuff is highly overrated.  The real money is on discernment, which leads you to the wise choice every time.

So, as I thought about it, I think we need a new word.

enter "DISCERNISION".   It's the best of both words.

Discernment, like theology, can become book smart irrelevant if not applied to life.  Discernment is the ability to know the wise choice to make.  It doesn't necessarily give you the gumption to do it.

Decision, like merry-go-round-ology, can keep us moving in circles instead of towards a real goal- making decision after decision that leads no where and everywhere at the same time.

Discernision, is best.  It is a wise choice that discernment has lead you to act on.

Here you go all you English majors.  I used it in 3 sentences.  You'll see it's a noun and a verb cuz it's got a bias for action in it's etymology :)

  • "Dear God, please give me discernision today!"
  • "It's time for some serious discernisions cuz I was accepted to all 5 colleges I applied to."
  • "A great coach doesn't just make decisions about players on a field.  They descernision them into the best place for them and the team."

There you go.  Have fun.  May the Lord give you a spirit of discernision as you try and use discernision in a sentence today.  Move over "fo rizzle", a new fake word is in the house.


100 points for you if use it today.  


Monday, October 15, 2012


A friend sent me this link last June.  It sat in my inbox for 4 months.  Probably because I generally dislike graduations.

Long lines. Endless lists of names. Clapping and attempts to out hoot the next guy's family for who is the coolest graduate. The hot sun in little or no shade.  Mostly an uncomfortable and forgettable experience filled with long speeches and cliches.  If I go as a pastor to them, it's super easy to be a name in the crowd and not even be noticed.  Parking is ridiculous.  Many times you need a ticket that is all but impossible to get. Families that I know are hard to find. We have students from at least 9 high schools. That's a lot of ceremonies.   Perhaps if I was in the one stop town where there's one ceremony, it'd be different.  But I've never been a pastor in one of those situations.

I never miss a graduation party I'm invited to though.  Just the ceremony.  At least at the graduation parties I can say hi, take a picture, share a gift, speak a word of encouragement and meet the family, hang out for a few, etc.  At the graduation ceremony however I smile, move through the crowd to try and find students I know, take pictures, and celebrate with them as best I can.  But I'm pretty sure they'll forget i was there in like 10 minutes and I'll commit endless hours to being there.

Lest you think I'm just a bitter youth pastor, I even missed the one from my own 4 years at U.C. Davis because I graduated a quarter early and couldn't see why I should drive back to do the above paragraphs.  My mom is still mad at me for that.  I would skip the one from seminary this June however they have required it as the final pre-requisite for graduation and my wife is making it mandatory too. Booo!  I say let's ditch it and go on a cruise.

So anyway, I watched this link today.  The truth is, if all graduation speeches were like this one I'd probably never miss one.  It's funny, wise, whimsical, not too long, and insightful. This one is worth watching once a month at least... or whenever you feel like sitting around wasting your life, patting yourself on the back for being the best in the world, or wallowing in self-depricating acts of depression due to losing the American game I like to call "compareanoia" which I find myself sucked into all too often.

So, if you have 12 minutes and 46 seconds, go back in time to high school and give this speech a listen.    1,736, 321 people already have when I posted it.  Maybe you're one of them.  If not,  then put on a cap and gown if you want and turn up the volume.

Seriously, sit down and enjoy the speech you likely didn't get, or won't get, at your graduation.  It's so worth a few minutes.


Friday, October 12, 2012


If you've been around youth ministry long enough, then you've seen a youth room or camp that has risers of some sort in them.  I love risers.  They are versatile, functional, and great for getting a lot of students in a compact space.

When I designed my last youth group room in Nor Cal, I built permanent ones in the back.  They worked perfect! So when it came time to design a new room on campus for our 7th and 8th grade ministry here at Journey and Christina- our junior high pastor- asked for risers, I was all in!  So along with a team of some volunteers, we recently built some.

On a personal level, I sometimes love the diversion of a construction project from the work of ministry because the honest truth is... it's easier.  The materials are static, the progress is obvious, and when you're done, you're done.  Youth ministry is about none of those things.  So a little construction project escape is soul rebuilding for me from time to time.

Here's a pic of 2 of the finished product side by side.  We made 4 moveable risers in all, allowing for a lot of room configuration possibilities.  This week it was set up with half the crowd facing the other half.

front view of 2 risers
side view, notice the front of the risers at like a 15 degree angle
Each of the four moveable risers are 6 feet wide by 7'3"long by 36" tall.  They are built strong enough so that students can stand, jump, sit or lay on them without the stairs flexing.  They are essentially impossible to flip or break, no matter how many students you put on them.  They are carpeted and padded for durability and comfort.

I didn't design them with plans... just did it off of a sketch.  So a few people since have asked how we made them.  I didn't want to take the time to draw out plans and such, but I did takes some pictures and try to explain the process here in case you want to sorta copy them.


This is not the hardest project, but it will take some experience and confidence with building things to get r done right.  You might try grabbing your basic carpenter or hiring some help if you're unsure. 

Then, the following materials for one riser.
(3) sheets of 1/2" CDX plywood for the sides, back, and backrests on the riser tread.
(2) sheets of 3/4" CDX plywood for the riser treads themselves.
(6) 8 foot DF 2x6
(20ish) 2x4 studs 
9 feet of 6' wide thick carpet pad
9 feet of at least 7' wide indoor outdoor carpet of your choice. 
Some tools, glue, nails, screws, and a pneumatic staple gun.  

Now give this instruction set to a carpenter at your church and print out the pictures.  

Lay down three of the 2x6 boards for skids cut to 84.5" Long.  (This is the width of 2 stair treads at 39.5" plus the width of the 2x6 wall)  Lay them flat on the ground and parallel to one another with the outside skids 6 feet apart and the center skid 36"OC.

BUILD THE WALLS: finished height (including the 3/4" plywood tread on top and 2x6 skid below) will be 12" for the lower step, 24" for the middle step, and 36" for the 2x6 back wall.  All walls will be 72" long.

The breakdown looks like this:

Build 3 short 2x4 "walls" w/16"on center studs. Each wall will be 72" by 9.75" high.

Build 3 medium 2x4 "walls" w/16"on center studs.  Each wall will be 72" by 21.75" high.  Also, you may want to use a 2x4 brace to permanently square up at least one of these walls to keep the riser plumb in the center.  You can see the angled brace in the pic below.

Build one tall 2x6 "wall" w/16"on center 2x6 studs. It will be 72" by 34 1/2" high.   This wall has no plywood on top and serves as the back and last step of sorts as well.  It's finished height including the skid is 36".

bottom of risers showing 2x6 back wall, 3 middle step walls and 3 front step walls- all mounted on three 2x6 skids.

Riser on edge. Note 3 skids and various "internal walls"

Per the above pictures, and after you ensure the skids are square, mount the walls to them with screws and liquid nail (especially if you're going to be moving them around).  The 2x6 tall wall goes on one end and a 2x4 short wall on the other.  Each stair tread is 39.5" deep by 72" wide and has 3 walls under it.  One wall on each tread edge and one down the middle for support.

Now sheet the outside of the tall 2x6 back wall with 1/2" plywood.  This is the finished riser back.

The stair tread or riser treads are 3/4" plywood.  I cut the plywood to 39 1/2" x 72" wide.  This will leave you with with a 36" x 72" finished riser tread.  3 1/2" will be lost due the the 2x4 wedges we add to create the back rest angle to each step face.  Wedges are described next...

Cut 2x4 wedges the height of your various steps.  If you did this right, they should all be identical, about 12" high.  I simply cut them and then tapered them from 3 1/2" at the bottom nearest the tread to nothing at the top.  The use a finish nailer and glue and mount them to the top of the 3/4" decking and the front of every stud in the walls, including the front end of the bottom step so people can sit on the floor and lean against it comfortably too.   The angle is not as critical as it is that they are identical.  The angle in this design will be about 15 degrees and is a nice angle to lean against however.
bottom of middle stair tred wall.  You can see one of the wedges in the center of the picture here and the plywood sheeting too. 

Sheet the remaining surfaces with 1/2" plywood.  First sheet the front of the 3 riser treads and then the outer 2 sides, paying attention to keeping the riser plumb and square as you go.

PAINT: Stain or paint your exterior plywood as you desire.  This is really hard to do if you wait till after your carpet and will likely get paint on the carpet in the process if you do it last.

Using a pneumatic stapler, staple down a thick pad, running it up the front of each riser and across the top of each tread, leaving it back about an inch from all edges so the carpet can be flush mounted.

Now cut the carpet to width, leaving an extra several inches on each side to fold under.  It's also ok to leave it long and do this as you go.  But regardless, beginning at the top of the finished 36"- 2x6 wall, turn the carpet under itself and staple it like crazy every 2 inches along the edge.  Carefully begin to work your way down the front edges, pulling the carpet tight and stapling and cutting the carpet as needed as you go.   NOTE:  Never put a staple in the open field of the carpet, only along the edges or the seem between the 2 stairs.  Because of the pad, you'll see every staple you leave in the field and it will look bad. Trust me.

carpet turned on itself and stapled

view of the carpeted edges.

If your risers are moveable you have a variety of options.  We chose some crazy teflon plastic stuff a custom car guy from our church had in his shop.  He said it's the same stuff they use for skid plates on nascar race cars.  It's durable and slippery by design.  So we mounted it to the bottom with enough pieces and surface area  that made it possible for 2 adults to push on our smooth concrete floor.   You may need to use wheels or something depending on your application. 

Ok.  Well I hope that was helpful.  If you have questions, feel free to drop an e-mail or question in the comments and I'll be happy to help out if I can.

Good Luck and happy riser building to you!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This past sunday we were talking about friendship in our high school ministry; and specifically, friendship with God.  We talked about facebook and how culture has redefined things like who we call a "friend" and the way we use it based on phrases like "you have a friend request" and such.

Jesus actually chooses friendship as the means by which he wants to interact with us in John 15 when he calls his disciples to a radical kind of love that would die for someone.

(John 15:12–15)
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
As a big idea, I was challenging students that we all need to own this idea:  

"My friendship with Jesus shapes my friendships"

In the process, we discussed that our understanding of what it means to be a friend of God or how to be in close friendship with God is jacked up because we read stuff backwards into that concept from our culture.  So if you have a weird understanding of earthly friendship, you end up with a weird understanding of a heavenly one.  The same way that many have a really hard time with the phrase "Father God" because their only upfront image of an earthly father is one of absentee or abuse.

As I pondered this message and thought of what we think of when we think of friendship with Jesus, I was reminded of the pop-culture phenomenon of "Jesus is my homeboy".

If you're unfamiliar with it...

  • Here's the official t-shirt and whatnot website that went viral after several pop culture icons wore the shirt in the early 2000's I think. 
  • Here's the urban dictionary post on homeboy that makes the phrase among others to define the term homeboy- which is an interesting cultural exegesis note anyway.  
  • Here's an blog post I ran across that shows lots of the ways that Jesus has been used in pop-culture lately, including "Jesus is my homeboy". 
Whatever you think of the phrase "Jesus is my homeboy", I found it interesting food for thought.   Plus, I think anything that provokes a response and conversation about who Jesus is or is not is worthy of using for youth ministry anytime.   But by far, the most thought provoking thing I ran across was a set of pictures by world renown photographer named David LaChapelle.

He did a series of 6 pieces of art that place a "Jesus figure" in modern contexts that he titled "Jesus is my homeboy".  It begs images that the pharisees surely condemned Jesus for... 
(Luke 7:34)
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
Here's 3 of the six.  You can find the rest on the link above. 

This last one is obviously a direct modern/ancient/pop-culture/conflicting/thought-provoking interpretation to this passage in Luke 7 where Jesus is approached by a "sinful woman" who washes his feet with her hair and anoints them with perfume.  

If you want to get student's talking, you might consider showing them all 6 and interacting with some of the texts in this post and ask them something like this about these pictures:
  • How do you think these pictures help or hurt the image of Jesus as a friend?
  • When you picture Jesus as a friend, what do you picture?
  • Be an art critic for a minute:  Which one of these 6 was the most awkward?  Which is the most profound? 
  • If we were to insert Jesus into your friendship circles, describe what role he would play and how you think he would act and dress.  
If you do use it... I'd love to know how your study went.  Be sure and return a shout out in the comments. 


Monday, October 08, 2012


I coach soccer for AYSO.  For the past 6 or 7 years I've been a dual coach, coaching two of my kids teams each summer and fall from early August through at least Thanksgiving weekend.  Over the last 3 or so of those years our local region has implemented a single Saturday of the season that they call "Silent Saturday."

It has 2 purposes:

  1. It's supposed to empower kids to lead their peers as the "self coach".  
  2. It's supposed to remind coaches and parents that this is a "kid's sport".
So, the rules are these for coaches of/and players age 8 through 13:
  • COACHES:  no verbal coaching or gesturing to direct play except during half or quarter breaks.
  • PARENTS:  same as coaches. Clapping is allowed.  Nothing more. 
  • PLAYERS:  can do or say anything as long as they are on the field together.  No coaching from them on the bench to players on the field.
I'll be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with this day.  I think it's premise is cool, but I feel like I'm doing nothing as a coach.  It even at times feels like a waste and like they don't need me.  But really, it's pretty telling on who your players are and what kind of team you have too.  In the end, I could argue for it or against it with some solid reasoning on both sides. 

But this year, it got me thinking.... 

"What would happen if we implemented a Silent Day" in youth group?  Like a Sunday or Wed or when adults were present like normal  (NOT a weekend where you go away or take your leaders on a retreat).  But even though they are present, they were not allowed to coach or direct anything that went on during the program.  I've done plenty of student led weekend or youth group gatherings in my ministry. Every weekend we have students lead their peers in some fashion.  But what would happen if a group of youth pastors decided to stack hands and do this?  

  • Messy and Owned ministry is better than Polished and Dismissed.
  • Sometimes students don't because adults do.  If we get out of the way, they will step up.
  • Student ministry can be and should be empowering for students. 
  • PASTORS AND ADULT LEADERS: Should be there like normal and can be as involved in the preparation process as needed.  During the program, they remain silent.
  • STUDENTS (anyone 5th-12th grade I think):  Are there to coach and collectively lead their peers. 
Anybody want to do this with me?  What about a weekend in January? Kick off the new year with a new idea- or at least a collective idea.


Tuesday, October 02, 2012


I've seen this question come up a lot lately.  I saw it in this blog post here last week.  Ben Witherington says it's not.  
A lot of people are pointing out that Jesus did not exactly triumph the family first mindset that many preach today.  Some are going so far as to say it is unbiblical to care for your family first.  Jesus famously even called us in Luke 14:26 to "hate their father and mother." 
A book I read this last spring for a seminary class, "When the church was a Family" said so too.  
Below is my review of that book... and why I think both Ben Witherington and Joseph Hellerman are overstating their case about the family in ways that if fully taken to heart, will only perpetuate and hurt the family in ways that for the last several hundred years the church -and especially the evangelical pastorate- have been notorious for.  
This is a long and theological blog post.  Beyond what I normally do, as it is essentially a seminary paper on my blog.  If it interests you and you want to wrestle with this, then I hope this helps.  If your'e a student ministry pastor like I am, then I think it has profound impact on the gospel we preach and the role we call families to have. I'd encourage you to read it and the book it is interacting with. 
Oh.. and for what it's worth.  If google brought you here via a search for a book review, don't copy and paste my paper to plagiarize it for your own seminary class.   #justsayin
DC 501:  Discipleship in Community.  Spring 2012.  Bethel Seminary San Diego. 
Hellerman, Joseph H.  When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus' Vision for Authentic Christian Community. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009.  E-book accessed on in April 2012, from Kindle Edition.
In this book, as the title implies, Hellerman is declaring war on the individualism and CEO mentality of American Christianity both in the congregation and at the pastoral helm of leadership, arguing that it is neither helpful nor Biblical to live a Christian life apart from community.  In fact, Hellerman would consider the phrase “personal Christian life” to be an oxymoron. He goes to great length to build his case for a collective spiritual development, examining everything from first century Mediterranean culture and literature to modern psychology to the Biblical texts themselves.  He leverages everything he can toward this premise; even taking odds with the way the gospel has largely been presented in evangelical circles to date.  To this end, Hellerman writes, “There is, in fact, no better way to come to grips with the spiritual and relational poverty of American individualism than to compare our way of doing things with the strong-group, surrogate family relations of early Christianity. This is the central focus of this book. The New Testament picture of the church as a family flies in the face of our individualistic cultural orientation.” (pp. 6-7).  Therein lies the purpose: to challenge the modern day American Christian to return to a Biblical model of church as a family, to which one is both redeemed for and sanctified through. 

This book is primarily about the following three propositions.
  1. In a healthy Christian life, the body of believers to which one is a part are to be a surrogate spiritual family.    The mindset of the first century Mediterranean culture, not unlike the culture that is still there today, was one of the “group comes first”.   In this context, it was and still largely is, the norm for decisions about life, family, and faith to yield to the needs of the whole above the individual.  In our ego driven and narcissistic culture we live in today, it is critical that we understand that this is not God’s design for social interactions.  We are called to be a part of a community. So much so, that when we are out of touch with a community, we should recognize we are out of touch with God’s best.
  2. Jesus did not come to be our “personal Lord and Savior.”  He came to be our collective Redeemer and Restorer.   To this end, Hellerman argues that the way we have presented and even crafted the gospel is unhealthy at best and unbiblical at worst.   He argues that one cannot commit their soul to Jesus without committing their life to the community of faith- the church.  It is absolutely necessary that when we call someone to give up their life for the gospel, that we call them to take up the cross of the community. The call of God on the life of sinner is not only to yield one’s life to Jesus for redemption of sins, but to commit to a community in which God will use each of us for the benefit of the whole in order that we all might be sanctified, working out our salvation together until the day of Christ Jesus.
  3. People who fail to honor the family of God will fail to become all that God has created them to be.  To this end, it is impossible for a believer to move towards sanctification outside of the church.  Just as in the New Testament we can scarcely find a new convert who is not then almost immediately baptized, we also cannot find an example of a lone Christian.  Whether it is the community responsibilities of the law within the nation of Israel or the collective benefit of Spiritual gifts given by God for the benefit of the church, the group has always been a necessary part of full faith development.  While Hellerman doesn’t necessarily bring focus to the “wisdom literature” of the scriptures, the truth remains that what Hellerman has argued is also all over this genre of literature in the Scriptures.  “Do you see people who are wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for fools than for them.”  (Pro 26:12) Perhaps most famously, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If they fall down, they can help each other up. But pity those who fall and have no one to help them up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  (Ecc 4:8–12)   It is both a Biblical reality and social truth that people do not, and cannot, become all that God has created them to be in this broken world apart from the collective soul shaping of the body of Christ. 

I found this book to be a pleasure to read and resonated with a lot of what I’ve been thinking and feeling as a pastor and follower of Jesus in the last decade or so.  I found the balance of historical data, theological musing, and personal stories to be a great mix that moved me along as a reader and invited me to seriously consider the weight of Hellerman’s argument. I thought his premise was well thought out and his argument solid on two levels. 
First, I thought his proposal that the gospel is about the body more than it is about the individual to be profound and timely.  I think that the idea that someone can make a “personal commitment” to Jesus on a whim and end up in eternity because of a prayer is a whole lot of theology based upon a couple of verses and a story of a thief on a cross.  The vast majority of the material in the Scriptures is not about God saving an individual, but rather calling a people.  While I agree that a group is made of individuals, I think it is critical that we also understand that if an individual does not connect with a group, they are missing a massive piece of what it is Christ came to redeem and begin again.  Not a religion, but a community of believers who would love God and love one another in ways that would transform them and the world around them into the imago dei.   
Secondly, I thought his argument that the priority of the individual over the group has left us with few disciples and a church that is moving towards irrelevance is spot on.  I found the history, biblical texts, and personal stories about how a congregation can transform individuals in ways that an individual alone never could were very well written and supported.  It made me want to recommend the book and highlight huge sections of it as prophetic for the church and discipleship at large.  I already did so for my own leadership team at our church.

By way of a critique, I do think Hellerman goes too far in his observation about first century group culture.  He goes to great lengths to recognize the cultural norm of the day is a “group first” mindset. He explains how that influenced both Paul and Jesus’ teaching.  However, he then concludes that the church today desperately needs to understand that it is not one’s own blood family that Jesus most cares about, but it is one’s church family.  This may have been well and true in a collectivist society where Jesus was being countercultural in his message.  But today, I wonder if Jesus’ message to the church would not have been something like, “Don’t call your spiritual disciple your son or your fellow Christian your brother if you won’t disciple or care about the ones in your own home.”  I’m not arguing against the message that we are called to care for and shepherd more than just the immediate blood family that God has given us.  But I do think it’s overstating the case and missing the need in our current American culture when one says, “Care about your surrogate church family” more than you do the one in your own home.   I’ve seen far too many homes destroyed by parents who cared about work or school or even leading in the church at the expense of their own marriage and parenting.  The consequence is not one where I now think we should challenge people to do a better job at taking care of the church, so you can do a better job at home.  The cart is not before the horse.  The reality is, that in America today, telling the average believer to take care of their brother in Christ before their own brother is equally unbiblical when we understand that the first century Mediterranean culture was doing this by default and our culture rarely does this at all.  If you take the cultural desire to do this away, then what you end up with is only half the story.   
It is true that Christians need to understand the value of church as a faith forming community.  It is true that the modern day believer needs a solid reminder that “personal Lord and savior” is not a phrase pulled from the pages of the Scriptures. It is true that the evangelical world today needs to redeem the idea of community and value the call to be brother and sister with those in the family of God.  It is also true however that we need to remind and re-teach a generation what it means to be the family.  The idea that we can pull from Luke 14:26 that Jesus cared little about the family is just selective hermeneutics.  The family of God is only as valid a metaphor as the family is healthy.  Even passages like Hebrew 12 have difficulty being understood today when the discipline of an earthly father is often (a) not present and (b) punishment rooted instead of healthy and corrective.  When the metaphors that illustrations are built upon break down, the message changes with it, and often the metaphor and the message must be adjusted to compensate for the new cultural reality if the same message is still to be rightly communicated.  In the world of absentee Dad, single parenting, rampant divorce, abuse and infidelity, and a multitude of sins that destroy and divide homes, I’m not at all convinced that the message from Jesus today would be, “leave your kids and follow me.”  Just as Paul advises those in slavery to honor God within that system, so I think Jesus, if he was giving a word to the American family today, would not call us to care less about our marriages and kids and care more about him.  Instead he might retrain and remind an entire generation that parenting matters and flows from the Holy Spirit’s leading.  He would take us all the way back to Deuteronomy 6 and remind us of the way the Shema was to be lived out among a family, and then as a people.  In this, Hellerman overstates his point to correct a misreading of the “brother” concept in the Scriptures and to counteract the “personal Lord and Savior” imagery.  I’m not convinced however, that he shared the other side of the coin.  In many cases, I more felt like he simply flipped the coin over.  Instead of a expanding the picture of family to include the church, I felt like he tried to undo the family in favor of the church.   

“Radical individualism. What this amounts to is simple enough. We in America have been socialized to believe that our own dreams, goals, and personal fulfillment ought to take precedence over the well-being of any group—our church or our family, for example—to which we belong. The immediate needs of the individual are more important than the long-term health of the group. So we leave and withdraw, rather than stay and grow up, when the going gets rough in the church or in the home.”
(p. 4). Kindle Edition.

“As church-going Americans, we have been socialized to believe that our individual fulfillment and our personal relationship with God are more important than any connection we might have with our fellow human beings, whether in the home or in the church. We have, in a most subtle and insidious way, been conformed to this world. “ 
(p. 7). Kindle Edition.

“Note this well. In Mediterranean antiquity, blood runs deeper than romantic love. “ 
(p. 38). Kindle Edition.

“If we are truly serious about returning to our biblical roots, where our relationships with our fellow human beings are concerned, our priority list should probably look something like this: (1st) God’s Family — (2nd) My Family — (3rd) Others This represents a radical reinterpretation of what it means to follow Jesus.”                                                                                                                                                                 
(p. 74). Kindle Edition.

“People did not convert to Christianity solely because of what the early Christians believed. They converted because of the way in which the early Christians behaved.”   
(p. 105). Kindle Edition.

“We need to reconsider our approach to evangelism and to rethink the very content of the gospel we proclaim. The biblical model of the Christian church as a strong-group family offers a great tool to help us refine the doctrine of salvation to better accord with the beliefs and practices of the New Testament church.”, Joseph H.
(p. 122). Kindle Edition.
Due to the individualistic tendencies of our culture, and the correspondingly loose connection in our thinking between soteriology and ecclesiology, it is not uncommon to encounter persons who claim to be followers of Jesus but who remain unconnected to a local faith community. In contrast, we do not find an unchurched Christian in the New Testament.
(p. 123). Kindle Edition.

“This strong-group perspective runs throughout both the Old and New Testaments. It has been God’s design from the beginning. The one-sided emphasis in our churches on Jesus as “personal Savior” is a regrettable example of Western individualism importing its own socially constructed perspective on reality into the biblical text. Our individualistic culture encourages us to assume that God’s main goal in the history of humanity consists of getting individual people saved. Salvation is all about what God has done for me as an individual. I suggest instead that we view God’s work in human history as primarily group-oriented.”
(p. 125). Kindle Edition.

“But something else happens when we are saved, which is just as real in God’s eyes, on God’s positional ledger sheet, so to speak, as our justification, something I like to call our “familification.” Just as we are justified with respect to God the Father upon salvation, so also we are familified with respect to our brothers and sisters in Christ. And this familification is no less a positional reality than our justification. “
(p. 132). Kindle Edition.

“We set ourselves up for great disappointment if we overidealize the concept of the church as a surrogate family. Even the warmest blessings of living out the church family model do not come without their own challenges.”  
(p. 155). Kindle Edition.

“The American evangelical model of the CEO pastor who functions as a spiritual father to his congregation and as a business executive with his staff—but who relates to no one in the church as a peer brother in Christ—directly betrays the New Testament metaphor of the church as a family. “  
(p. 181). Kindle Edition.

“Christians in America do not need pastors who are celebrities. They need pastors who are mature brothers—pastors who walk alongside them hand-in-hand, overcoming the same spiritual obstacles that their sheep face, in the context of the interpersonal accountability and relational integrity that God has provided in His church family. “
(p. 194). Kindle Edition.


Friday, September 28, 2012


This is my fourth post on some reflections from my time with Rob Bell last May.

you can find the first 3 here:

1. Preaching and sermon development.
2. Sabbath and soul care
3. Dealing with criticism

This one will be #4 and some thoughts on Reading, thinking, brainstorming, and Idea Mining.

Whatever you think or believe about Rob, I think you'd be a fool to say he isn't well read or doesn't think outside the box in some very creative ways.  He surely does both of those things and whenever I find myself within earshot of someone like that.. I soak up all I can about some of their patterns and where they generate those ideas and learnings from.  I loved the stuff he was sharing to this end.


If I am stressed out, slammed, and can't get ahead.... ahhhumm...  then I shouldn't be surprised when ideas drop like flies.  I have to create space in me for creativity and you have to create space in you.  This means protecting our best time for our best stuff.  It means taking care of your own life and soul.  It means post #2 above is critical to hearing ideas, brainstorming, and giving ourselves time to flush them out with God.   Take a break.  Go for a walk.  Leave it and come back to it. Give ideas time and space and visit them often.  Think day to day, not marathon and don't underestimate the power of brainless space for fabulous conclusions over time.

"If you're preaching on Sunday and starting prep on Thursday, that sermon's probably gonna suck."- Rob


For example, Rob said the fundamental questions when designing a service are:

"Can we create an experience that messes with the proverbial follow up question of 'Great, now what's for lunch'?"
"Can we create experiences where when it's over, it's not over?  Preaching should start, not end a discussion."
"Can we mess with the 'now what' question?"
Rob suggested that the basic question behind creative thinking is:  "God is in this place, but am I aware of it?"  So, we open our eyes and ears and go digging.  Here's some questions to do that:
"How did this make me feel?... pay attention to all your senses when wrestling with ideas." 
"What did I find intriguing?  What spurred my curiosity recently?  What are people becoming a connoisseur of?  What does that tell me about them, the human condition, and of God?"

In preparation for one weekend service, Rob and his team asked, "How can we help people dump their spiritual, emotional, and lifestyle baggage?  Literally."
Their answer to this was that one year, at good Friday, they told people that they could come in from 3-9pm and just dump whatever was holding them back from God. So for 6 hours, people came in and dumped alcohol, computers, pictures, notes, you name it... they dumped it.   In an empty room with one cross lit up in the center and some music playing.  It was a culmination of a series called "leaving Egypt".  Then on Easter Sunday, when they came back this HUGE pile was GONE.   I think they showed a time lapse video or something of the stuff being hauled away... but it was evidently massive and so literally moving for people.  [This is the kind of idea stuff that comes up when we start breaking the mold and asking better questions... the kind of stuff no one ever forgets.]


You have found this true.  I know you have.  We've all said this, "I can't get anything done here."  Wherever "here" is for you.  If you have young kids, you probably cannot prepare a sermon at home.  You might love to work in a coffee shop or you might just be interrupted 47 time by people who see you.  Your office might be a haven of productivity... but mine is a constant space of interruption.  I have to be in it and interruptible regularly, but I also have to get out, get away, and think.  Often, these can't be done in the same space.  Just admit it, and go find somewhere to think and pray and get r done. I sometimes lock myself in our youth room instead of my office to do this some days.  There's a big table in there and the students are in school and I don't have my office door open and yeah... game on.


We got to spend several hours one day listening to the chief creator/producer of the TV show Lost, Carlton Cuse.  I'm not much of a TV buff, but it was a kick to listen to how a show is written and such. But bottom line, it's 6-10 writers in a room, 450 million dollars an episode, and 425 employees feeding and creating and running with ideas that created that show.

To this end, they talked a lot about the ridiculousness of a tv show or a sermon or a talk hoping to be really really great when it's been prepared by only one person hulled up in a study somewhere.  Got me thinking about the huge value of team sermon prep and some things I recently heard Perry Noble say on the subject.  But here's some stuff Rob and Carlton said:

  • A well organized group will out-produce and out create any individual any day.
  • Don't be afraid to fail.  In fact, embrace it.  To achieve anything of importance, you have to risk failure.
  • If you have good people around your table and everyone is passionate about it, trust it.  
  • Beware of the twin poles of procrastination and perfectionism. Avoid both.
  • Use NLQ's =  not a leading question.  In other words, ask one's you're genuinely curious about, not one's you're secretly trying to pitch an idea through.   
  • Turn off your cell phone.  Distractions and a lack of presence destroy creativity. 
  • Don't squash the ideas of others.  Let the craziness sit for a while and springboard off of it. 
  • Learn to love the process of discovery, not just the end product.
  • Search for the simple that lies just beyond the complexity of things.

  • You know you've read enough commentaries on a subject when they start quoting each other. 
  • Find better sources and read the best of the best on a subject.  Look at reviews.  Once you find some good stuff, find out what they say is good and go read that.  
  • Read widely, it's great for idea stealing.  Pick up a sports mag, a fashion mag, a news mag, etc... 
  • Don't linger on the internet.  Fly in, get what you need, fly out.  It's a productivity pit if you stay too long.  SOOO... get off my dumb blog now and go make some great stuff :))))


Wednesday, September 26, 2012


This is the third post on some reflections from my time with Rob Bell last May.

1. Preaching and sermon development.
2. Sabbath and soul care
3. Dealing with criticism
4. Reading, thinking, brainstorming, and idea mining.

This one will be #3 and is some reflections on dealing with criticism, something that if you even distantly follow Rob, you should be aware he's received more than share of in the past few years.  One of the reasons I went to this was for this reason alone.  I wanted to hear Rob's thoughts on the subject- especially since I knew my next book- which is currently in the writing stage- is on this very subject.

So here's some stuff I gleaned from listening to a man share his life and reflect on his journey with us.


No, we don't then assume that if your'e criticized, it's evidence that you are like Jesus.  Just this... if Jesus was criticized, don't be surprised when you are.  The authors of the gospels go out of their way to make sure Jesus was not without his critics

  • John 6:52-67  people no longer followed Jesus because of a hard teaching.  Jesus even asks the 12 if they will be leaving too. 
  • John 8:48.  Jesus is accused of demon possession
  • Luke 22:47-48   Judas betrays Jesus
  • Matt 2816-17  But some doubted.  


We cannot surrender control of what others say or do.  We cannot control what they will or will not do with a teaching.  We cannot control how they respond.  We can barely control our own lives.  So live in this freedom.  Do all that you can to deal with your sin, yield your life to Jesus, surrender your heart to the leadings of the Holy Spirit, and then let the chips fall where they may.  The results are beyond our control- for better or for worse, so save yourself a headache and surrender them now.  


All change is a form of loss.  Learn to lament, to mourn, to celebrate, and to embrace change as a movement from one to another.  Letting go is part of moving forward.  The ability to navigate through the past and into God's preferred future is immeasurable. 


Surround yourself with people who will love and support you and tell you of your funk long before your enemies do.  


This should just be followed by the word..... "duh".  Why it is profound, is a statement against the "christian" community - especially the blogging one- that must make God sick. 

Here's some of quotes I jotted down on the subject: 
"The bigger and more prophetic your voice, the harder it is to find true community"- Rob
"This is who I married."  Kristen, responding to why the front lines junk her husband Rob takes and she goes headlong with him into, is worth it.  Her love and grace was beyond profound to me.
"When Love Wins came out- no one said mean things to our face.  No one.  Even people who knew us and had our phone numbers. They said it on the internet and through someone else."- Kristen on dealing with controversy as a couple and again, causing me to be deeply saddened at the state of the church in America.  
"We strived to protect our kids so they could be as normal as possible"- Kristen on raising kids in the wake of ministry and at times controversy where other kids at school would say the most ridiculous things about their dad, Rob, to them- clearly learned from their "christian" parents. This was unbelievably sad to listen to her share but reminded me of our role as parents and influencers on a profound level.  

If you're not going to bring your spouse into the solution loop of dealing with criticism, then don't bring them into the info loop at all.  If you get a critical e-mail and share with with your spouse and then meet with that person and bring repair the relationship, then you have to bring it full circle and come back to your spouse with the full story.   Failure to do this does not help with reconciliation.  As a pastor, your spouse should probably not be your primary outlet where you dump your criticism load.


Be careful who you listen to.


Don't assume you know what it is.  The thing you think is the issue rarely is the issue.  Dig in with questions.  

next up, "Reading, thinking, brainstorming, and idea mining."



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Husband. Dad. Jesus Follower. Friend. Learner. Athlete. Soccer coach. Reader. Builder. Dreamer. Pastor. Communicator. Knucklehead.

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