Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

The Arrest

Posted: April 21, 2011 in Bible, history, reconciliation, words, writing

This is the devotional I gave at Redwood Church’s Passion Week service.


That night itself was pregnant with the pangs of irony and opposites.  As the mob marched with torches and lanterns—in search of The Light.  Gathered in anger, anxiety and anticipation soldiers, Priest, police and Pharisees brandish their weapons to make war against the Prince of Peace.  Judas backed by army, but lacking integrity, leads the crowd in search of The Way.  Men connected by their own desire to snuff out The Life.

And of course, in a manner completely opposite of what anyone would suspect, instead of running away, Jesus steps forward.  After a night of praying that this moment would not have to come, Jesus does not hesitate to walk the road He and His Father have chosen.

The scene is so much different than you’d expect it to be.  In the recesses of my mind it has always been like a movie. They’ve got the building surrounded.  The roadblock is in place; the city is under siege.  Drop the bunker-buster. That’s how you arrest someone that’s dangerous.  It’s John Dillinger outside the movie theatre.  It’s Elliot Ness racing horseback across the countryside, while the Canadian Mounties rush down from the hills above.

But that’s not really what happened here.  Sure they thought, no they knew, that Jesus was dangerous.  So they send a “detachment of Roman soldiers” to make sure that nothing went wrong.  And just in case that wasn’t enough the Jewish Temple police came along for the ride.

A detachment of Roman soldiers?  That could have been up to 600 men.  The chief priest and the Pharisees?  That is serious religious and political power.  Not to mention all the hangers-on and rubber-neckers.  What they were doing tonight was too important.  This arrest couldn’t go wrong!

The last thing they needed was this arrest to go like the first six times they tried it.  Sometimes they were scared that the crowd would revolt, other times Jesus just walked through them because it “was not time.”

But then the one thing they hadn’t planned on happened.  When Jesus reveals who He is, it is they who step back and fall to the ground. It in all there clandestine proposals to rid themselves of Jesus, through all the late night planning sessions, back-room deals and political back scratching when the moment comes to apprehend Jesus they find it is they themselves who are arrested.

It’s not our Lord who shirks back in the moment of confrontation.  It’s not the Christ who suddenly feels the thunder of His heart pounding away in His chest.  It is not Jesus whose hands and voice shake and crackle with nerves in the moment of truth.

Jesus is captured, not because of their might, but because of His strength.

But the question is “why”?

One of the things that is so often lost is the fact that Jesus, is not murdered or assassinated. Judas doesn’t hand Jesus over—Jesus hands Himself over.

Sure there’s a mock trial and cruel beatings.  But it’s Jesus who says in John 10:18, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “the one way to show love to an enemy is to refuse to defeat him…if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and transform them.”

And the Thursday arrest that lead to the Friday of pain, was the mark of our redemption.  Because we all live as enemies to the cross. Jesus chose His capture that night.  Because in that night, He chose you!

Knowing that you weren’t going to be everything that you could have been.

Knowing that in your brief time on Earth you would turn away from Him countless times.

Jesus knew that we’d speak harsh words to one another, seek out our wants before the needs of others. Jesus knew that we would read and study God’s word and still not do it.  He knew that we would break our promises to people we care about.  He knew that we would be inclined to make other people suffer before we chose to sacrifice.  He knew that we’d rather take than give.

I suspect that if Christ had wanted to he could have walked out of the garden on Thursday and avoided the pain of Friday.  He could have rallied His supporters and fought the powers.  He could have done all of those things and much more and still been Jesus.  But He couldn’t have done those things and been Hosanna—the one who saves!

Make no mistake about it. Jesus suffers to save us from our sin…and from ourselves.

It is His unfailing love, His great compassion that blots out our transgressions.

Without Jesus’ choice to suffer the fierce suffering of the cross, we are lost in the woods.  We cannot help ourselves.  No one here, no one anywhere is good enough to save themselves.

D.M Stearns was preaching in Philadelphia.  At the close of the service a stranger came up to him and said, “I don’t like the way you spoke about the cross.  I think that instead of emphasizing the death of Christ, it would be far better to preach Jesus, the teacher and example.”  Stearns replied, “If I presented Christ in that way, would you be willing to follow Him?”  “I certainly would,” replied the stranger without hesitation.  “All right then,” said the preacher, “let’s take a first step.  Jesus did no sin.  Can you claim that for yourself?”  The man looked confused and surprised.  “Why, no,” he said. “I acknowledge that I do sin.”  Stearns replied, “Then your greatest need is to have a savior, not an example!”

In the wake of Jesus’ death, our Lord leaves us with a lot of things. An example, a comforter, a source of strength in times of weakness.  But in the garden, He willingly leads the crowds to His own death, because we need a Savior.  He has heard our deepest cry to the heights of Heaven: “Hosanna!  Save Us!”

Working For the Weekend?

Posted: January 18, 2011 in Bible, church, leadership, writing

This past weekend at Redwood Church, we launched a new teaching series about work, The Office. We’re spending three weeks examining why we work, how to get the most out of our work and how to deal with the tension between the demands of work and the obligations of home, family, community and church.

Unfortunately, work – at least in Christian contexts – goes frequently unexamined. The reason is simple: Many of us see work as a means to an end; something we do in order to do the things we really want to do. Dorothy Sayers once wrote, “What I urged then was a thoroughgoing revolution in our whole attitude to work. I asked that it should be looked upon, not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God.  That it should, in fact, be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that man, made in God’s image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing.”

Sayers is calling Christians to revolutionize work by envisioning work as something done for the sake of the work itself. This is also what we see in the Genesis 1 creation poem, as the writer pictures Creator God as One who works and delights in his work, calling it good.

So the question for us is this: How do we see our work? Is it something that drains us; something to get out of as soon as possible? Or could there be a way to change how we see out work altogether. And if so, might we revolutionize the world at work?

I read a lot. I don’t even get to read everything that I want.  At this very moment, I have 633 articles waiting review on Google Reader and I just cleared it out 5 minutes ago. I am in the midst of 4 great books, and am constantly reading and reviewing books, reading articles for blogs, reading for teaching, to better my leadership and sermon preparation. Certainly, most people don’t need to read this much – and if statistics are true, most people don’t. A major reason reading frustrates many of us is because there are certain skills to reading that no one teaches us. This is not an indictment of others or an elevation of myself, it just means that speakers, teachers, leaders and opinion-makers must read and stay information-current to do what they do well.

Occasionally, I’m asked about my reading habits, so here they are.

  1. Read Widely – As a minister I read both academic theology and popular level material, but more than that, it’s important to remain current on leadership, marketing, communications, technology, etc…. Plus, good leaders read works from multiple perspectives. Never become locked in to one particular human perspective. Think big. Think broad.
  2. Know When to Stop – Not every book deserves to be finished. 80% of the content is in 20% of the book. Because publishers generally think people won’t buy shorter books, most books have “filler” – a good bit of it, in fact. Skip it! Read and incorporate the important parts. Keep the rest for reference.
  3. Read “How To Read A Book” – I was required to read this book in graduate school. In it, Charles Van Dooren (yes, the Charles Van Dooren who cheated on “21” as was chronicled in the movie “Quiz Show) teaches you how to understand how books are written and how to read them to follow the author’s “argument.” You’re missing out on your reading if you don’t know how to read. Reading actually isn’t natural.
  4. Force Yourself – Reading is a discipline. When you’re working through a book, make yourself complete a certain # of pages every day. You’ll be amazed at how you start to tear through books at, say, 50 pages/ day. I know people who exercise their bodies for hours a day, but never exercise their mind. Reading is exercise for your mind and heart.
  5. Use Google Reader – RSS feeds are incredible. In 10 minutes you can keep up with a great deal of what’s happening in the world and in your particular interest. This is when blogs and finding good bloggers matters.

My guess is that by incorporating these 5 simple exercisess, you will enjoy and increase your reading. Remember, reading engages the heart and mind while leading us to new places in thought and deed. My hope is that you would become a lover of ideas and that those ideas would change the world.

You might be more productive if you unplugged your gear and wrote things down. I know the common wisdom is that technology helps us be more productive. And in some ways that’s true. People now keep electronic calendars, track projects with productivity software and so on. I want to argue — just for a moment — that you may need to recover pad and pen; writing things on paper. Though I’m an iPod, iPhone, Evernote kind-of guy, my most productive strategy is writing things down.

And here’s why I think it works well for me (and it might for you):

Writing Engages My Memory in Ways Typing Doesn’t. Truthfully, I type too much, so when I write something down, it feels as if my memory clicks in as if to say, “This is really important.” What’s more, something written in my paper planner or on my Action Sheet is more easily accessible. I don’t have to fire-up or log-in to anything. That means, as I’m working through the day, my most important and urgent tasks are simply a glance away.

People Are Annoyed By Your Electronics. Recently, I had lunch with several people while traveling on vacation. During one of those lunch meetings, two people pulled out their iPhones and began typing. Were they jotting down some nugget of wisdom from me, or checking e-mail? At another lunch with a church leader, my lunch partner simple pulled out a Moleskine notebook to jot down an idea that came to mind during the conversation. In one instance, I felt dismissed. In the other, I felt honored. Fiddling on your electronics in the presence of others is simply annoying, regardless of the good reasons you may need to do it. Just try this: In your next meeting, only take notes on paper. See how that changes things.

The Road Ahead Is Easy to See: This one is big for me! In my paper planner, I can see well ahead when busy times are coming. On my Google Calendar, I can easily manipulate the week, but I tend to have dates sneak up on me. For some reason that just doesn’t happen with paper. Plus, each Sunday night, Rochelle and I sit down, planners in hand, and map out the week. I can see quickly where the pressure points are, and we can shape the week the way that works best for my family.

If you’d like to move back to paper, here are some of the tools I use:

Behance Action Journal (affiliate link) – Great for project-planning and knowing what you’ve got going that is actionable. This is not for daily to-do’s, but short and long term projects. I use a simple to-do list for the daily and the action journal for projects.

My-Tyme Success Planner from Leadership Management, Inc – Our entire staff uses these. What’s great is that it allows you to track the hours you spend on task, set short and long term goals, provides space for monthly personal and business goals. When I follow it, my month is productive, healthy and much happier.

Moleskine Notebooks (affiliate link)- I have more of these than I can count. I speak and teach with them and take notes for larger writing ideas.

Give writing a try for the next month and see what happens.

I have long been a fan of Brian McLaren – both the man and his writings. We’ve e-mailed back and forth through the years, been apart of a scripture project together (The Voice), shared multiple meals, and Brian spoke an important blessing into my life at a critical time. His “A New Kind of Christian” came along for me at the perfect time; a time when I thought I was becoming disillusioned with faith, but ultimately, I was disillusioned with the version of Christian practice I’d thoughtlessly inherited. Brian showed this to me. This is, perhaps, Brian’s greatest gift; causing people to reexamine, search, study, investigate and re-conclude. In this way, Brian is a one man Hegelian Dialectic.  This is why so many people distrust and despise him and his work while others love him. In “A New Kind of Christianity, (ANKoCty)” Brian’s newest release, McLaren will not disappoint his fan or his critics.

ANKofCty endeavors to consider 10 questions that Brian says are transforming the faith. Truth is, these questions are not transforming the faith, but Brian wants them to, and he’s right to want it. The ten questions: (1) The Narrative Question, (2) The Authority Question; (3) The God Question, (4) The Jesus Question, (5) The Gospel Question, (6) The Gospel Question, (7) The Church Question, (8) The Sex Question, (9) The Future Question, and (10) The Pluralism Question are good ones, and Brian hopes to help push us ahead as we think through them together.

At the heart of ANKofCty is what McLaren calls, the “Greco-Roman” reading of scripture. This, it seems, is the root of our collective problems in terms of church and culture. Brian argues that freeing ourselves from this narrative releases us to answer the 10 questions Brian poses more faithfully. Within the Greco-Roman reading of scripture, Brian argues, there is no room for story or development, which ultimately gives rise to a “six-line narrative” that prejudices our reading of scripture. McLaren argues the “six-line narrative” leads us to all the wrong conclusions about everything – which Brian endeavors to demonstrate throughout the remaining pages of ANKofCty. In the end, Brian argues that we have read the Bible backwards with our filter coming through Paul, the apostles, Augustine, Plato and the Platonism and philosophical systems that are foreign to the true nature of the scriptures. Therefore, our view of Jesus and the Bible is not the Jesus OF the Bible, but a character – or caricature – inherited by thousands of years of interpretation lodged and birthed by the Greco-Roman narrative and Greek philosophy. This is Brian’s central thesis and gives rise to his conclusions.

I think Brian is both right and wrong. In fact, having read nearly all his books, I have never felt more strongly that he is both right on and far off course. This is what I mean: In terms of McLaren’s analysis of the Greco-Roman reading, he is dead on. The problem is that there is no way to avoid this, no way to time travel back through scripture and get something other than what we already got. This is where Brian is right and wrong. Having been raised in a “Restoration” movement, I know all too well the nonsensical pitfalls of thinking you can just skip over history, doctrine, theology, and theological and ecclesial development and get back to “the real thing.”

It cannot be done!

At best you miss the richness of the tradition that has given life to the faith that gives us life, at worst, you become a partisan to largely uneducated, ununified and incoherent belief system. If we were able leap backward over the hurdles of history to uncover a new way – or the grand old way – to read and interpret text without the obstacles course of 2000 years worth of interpretation and thought, then we would be forced to just to pick a method, system or interpretive lens and go with it arbitrarily.

Been there. Done that. Thank you very much.

All of that to say this; even Brian is coming at the text from somewhere “post-Jesus” in terms of history. Is he right in arguing that the method we’ve chosen is bad for hosts of reasons? Yes.  Is it possible for us to read and interpret Jesus the way McLaren wants us to, without the narratives that have been imposed heretofore? Unfortunately, no.

This means that all of our conclusions, even Brian’s, have to be held loosely, with epistemological humility. Perhaps it is my own ecclesial history, but something in my gut churns at the thought of dismissing church history and the schools of thought developed through it. For this reason, I’m open to the idea that I may be seeing shadows and experiencing paranoia where there need not be. I may be reacting to something not explicit in the pages of ANKofCty.

At the same time, Brian has offered the most helpful way forward on a number of issues that are becoming tremendously important to more and more people – sexuality, pluralism, etc…. He is far from convincing his critics or those entrenched in either/or, black/white, privileged / unprivileged thinking, but Brian’s conclusions, I think, are generally pointing the church in the right direction – though I need more convincing in some areas, myself. Both critics and fans of Brian know where he’s going with many of the issues addressed in ANKofCty before they turn the first page, but what is good about his work is that he provides a useable way forward for conversation (for those willing to have it). Using the Biblical text, McLaren at least gets the ball rolling and establishes what can become common language around these issues. This, I think, is the great service Brian has done for us.

In addition, Brian explores Romans in ways many will find broadening. In fact, I read ANKofCty with my Bible open. Trust me: this does not happen often! What more can you ask of a book? Brian forced me to look into the scriptures and I found myself looking differently. That alone is worth the price of purchase. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to read Romans the same way after engaging ANKoCty.

Likely the most out of character elements of ANKofCty comes in chapters 12 and 13 dealing with The Jesus Question. To articulate his vision of Jesus, McLaren takes on two vocal critics who happen to hold in common the ability to be consistently wrong and increasingly sought-after.  For those in the know, the critics are fairly easy to recognize, though Brian does not name them. What is out of character is Brian’s pointed language. Having spent time with Brian multiple times, I’ve found him to be irenic and generous, these chapters weren’t. At the end of chapter 12, I wrote in the margin, “Bam! One in ___________ _______________’s kisser.”

Between you and I, the rebuke was long overdue. Overdue not because scores needed settling, but because this particular critic has, and often does, misread Jesus and the Bible, offering an alternative gospel, in my view. This critic seems to envision Christian leadership as a full-contact blood sport and Brian gives him what he wants. Brian skillfully disarmed the violent, warrior-only version of Jesus, which had the added benefit of fitting nicely into Brian’s overall aims in ANKofCty. At the same time, he gave one particular critic the only kind of conversation he seems to understand. Harsh! In this way, the rebuke can be described as incarnational – speaking to people in their own language.

If Brian’s goal is to get people thinking and talking, ANKofCty is a success. Clearly not all will embrace his vision, yet others will be freed to pursue the Spirit in wild and new directions. Ultimately, ANKofCty is more than worth the time. I suggest reading it community. Drink from it slowly and invest in the ideas, maybe even choosing one question and digging deep over time. This is not a book for singular and individual thought. Brian has returned to what he does best – challenging the church. And he does so brilliantly this go round.


Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Viral Bloggers for the purpose of this review.

This is my review of Matthew Raley’s “The Diversity Culture,” which was posted at Viral Bloggers.

I picked up Matthew Raley’s. “The Diversity Culture” with great anticipation. Raley is a pastor in my new neck-of-the-woods, dealing with the same social, cultural and spiritual challenges that I have, and the topic – Christian engagement with others – had lots of promise. Plus, it ‘s been a busy month, and if I were to review a book this month, I wanted it to be short, which “The Diversity Culture” is. The information I received regarding the author, projected him as a political and social conservative and the church is woefully short of these kind of men and woman who are engaged in meaningful dialogue with the irreducible Other – or at least are willing to write about it!

After giving Raley a solid read, I must confess I found his work to be a mixed bag. That’s not to say that “The Diversity Culture” is a poorly written or overflowing with poor ideas. Rather, Raley and I, while sharing a desire for similar outcomes, we come at interaction with the Other in some significantly different ways.

My task here is not to argue with Raley – that would be counterproductive, not to mention out-of-school. Raley has some significantly useful points and perspectives that more Christ-followers would be wise to incorporate. Therefore, I will simple lay out what I consider to be the good, the bad and the ugly and allow you to decide.

The Good

Raley’s best work surrounds his ability to give Christians a language and process for engaging the Other. This, I know, can be discombobulating to some, especially those that view increasing diversity in America as some kind of threat. Describing the stereotypical World War II man, Raley explains that he “knows who he is.” This kind of knowing is often – and I may be reaching here myself – unsettled by cultures and epistemologies that the World War II man doesn’t understand. If that is the case, then Raley is a great place to begin.

What’s more, Raley, gives a step-by-step guide to engagement – the perfect solution for those who don’t quite know what to do. Raley offers scripture, community, and testimony as a way forward. For some this will be a great challenge and Raley gives them glimmers of hope and thoughtful ways to engage. If you know someone who wants to interact with Others, yet is too uncomfortable to do so, then Raley is a good place to start.

What’s more, Raley committed works from a Biblical perspective. He is not attempting to create conversations by distancing himself or the church from the claims of scripture. He is not even advocating that we see the Biblical text in a new way. Rather he is attempting to bridge the divide, giving Christ-followers helpful ways to move the conversation along

The Bad

But what Raley does well is also the Achilles heal of “The Diversity Culture.” Admittedly, most of these critiques involve the first half of the book, which was difficult to get through. First, while reading “The Diversity Culture” I got the distinct sense that the Other is a problem to be dealt with, not a person to be loved. The books aim seems to be this: “How do we get the irreducible Other to think and act like typical American evangelical Christians?” This fact is embedded in the book’s title. The subtle suggestion is that there is a “diversity culture” that we need to learn to reach and teach – as if (1) we are not all a part, in some degree, of the same culture and (2) that other cultures out to acquiesce to “our” culture.

Raley’s bias is exposed in his exegesis of the Samaritan woman, whom he constructs as the necessary Other to be engaged. Looking at Jesus’ interaction with the woman, Raley offers their interaction with one another as a model for the church. Here’s the problem with that model: (1) Within this interaction, Jesus is socially and politically the superior. This necessarily effects the engagement. We must ask whether or not this kind of engagement is a proper equivalent. Do we want to use an image of superiority when engaging the other? Perhaps one of Jesus’ encounters with a social equal might be better.

As Raley writes, you get hints of this superiority in his descriptions of others, such as a New York Times reader or the lady at Café Siddhartha. Raley characterizations may come off to some as flippant stereotypes that may make some readers wonder whether or not he took the irreducible Other seriously as a person. Along with this, Raley offers a popular exegesis of the Samaritan woman that simply is extra-textual. Like many before him, Raley posits that the woman was divorced by her five previous husbands, which may be true but is not actually in the text. How might the reader engage the Samaritan woman if through the devastating blows which life sometimes deals, they discover that she is a five-time widow? Sounds extreme? Maybe. But it is no more or less explicit in the text than a five-time divorcee. Oddly, I happen to know a woman who is a three-time widow. Given the disparity in ages, which occurred in the marriages of antiquity, it’s not entirely far-fetched. Perhaps Jesus’ interaction with the woman is less concerned about sin and more with compassion – but now I’m rambling. At root, however, for Raley the Other seems to be less a person and more the object of a ministry designed less to convert from darkness to light and more to assimilate. But, (and I mean this sincerely) I may be woefully misreading him.

Second, because Raley switches back-and-forth between an imagined scene in a café, his own insights and Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, his writing style seems herky-jerky, at times. Though not a major problem, there are points in which his argument is lost in transition.

It should be noted that Raley’s instincts get better as the book wears on, but it’s hard to give him an audience for that long. As a pastor desirous of conveying the message of the gospel, I respect Raley, and his desire to engage the Other in meaningful way. For that we can all be thankful.

A Life of Reading

Posted: September 24, 2009 in Bible, books, church, missional, reading, speaking, words, writing