The Justice Project

The Justice Project is a collection of essays devoted to understanding social justice issues. There are over thirty chapters dealing with issues as diverse as urban poverty, justice for Native Peoples in the U.S., reading the Bible justly, and racial justice among many others.

I appreciate the conversational rather than adversarial tone used in these essays. You will hear from liberals, and conservatives, you will hear from evangelical, mainline, and emerging believers, you will hear from seasoned voices whose names we all recognize and you will hear from the next generation of Christian thinkers that will amaze you with their passion and intellect.

Here's a little bit from the book:

"Because God is a God of justice, in any situation in which power is misused and the powerful take advantage of the weak, God takes the side of the weak. In concrete terms, that means God is for the oppressed and against the oppressor, for the exploited and against the exploiter, for the victim and against the victimizer. Because God loves justice, he is 'a stronghold for the oppressed' and 'the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever' Ps. 9:9,18"

"God's justice to the poor is executed through God's covenant people."

"God's kingdom is God's justice: God's will being done 'on earth as it is in Heaven' Matt 6:10. When that happens, justice comes. And with it comes freedom."

"If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

This book will challenge you, and convict you. I highly recommend this book.

CLICK HERE to view/download a 25 page excerpt of The Justice Project. (thank you Baker Books!)

CLICK HERE to purchase The Justice Project

Respectable Sins

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges tackles the issue of sins in the believer’s life head on. But this book takes a different approach than you might think when you hear that this is a book about sin. Bridges writes about sins that we find culturally acceptable, the ones that we sweep under the rug.

It’s easy to point out “big” sins and pontificate about how sad it is that others are struggling with such horrible issues without realizing that we are in fact committing the “acceptable” sins of gossip, pride and judgmentalism.

Or how about the sins of envy, jealousy, discontentment, selfishness and worldliness? Not only are these sins acceptable in our consumeristic society, they’re practically viewed as a God-given birthright!

This book is humbling, and convicting. It calls us to a holistic view of sin, and to the pursuit of holiness.

CLICK HERE to purchase Respectable Sins

CLICK HERE to purchase the small group discussion guide


It's really all about God

He said some really interesting things there.
Religion as a "God management system"?


The Search for God and Guinness

I just finished reading THE SEARCH FOR GOD AND GUINNESS, a biography of the beer that changed the world and I gotta say, it was pretty great. The first chapter alone is worth the price of admission! This book is full of beer history, Irish history, and the long tradition of the Guinness family and it's undying commitment to social justice and care for the working class of Dublin. The first chapter is a thorough history of beer, the brewing process and the way that religion and beer have been inextricably linked throughout the years. The rest of the book tells the story of the Guinness family; it's business genius, it's commitment to God, and to the needy.
The Guinness family has been classified in three groups, The brewing Guinness', the banking Guinness' and the Guinness' for God. The author, Stephen Mansfield, makes a point of saying that he is hesitant to use the phrase "Guinness' for God" though, because the implication is that the other family members were not "for God". He writes:
"They did not see themselves as secular, but rather as called. They did not see themselves as apart from Christian ministry, but rather as in the Christian ministry of industry and trade. They did not think of their brewing work as a menial way to pay the bills, hoping that they might compensate for such worldliness by giving occasional service to the church. No, they had absorbed the great Reformation ideal that everything a man did was to be done for God and that his calling and his vocation were usually the same thing. They understood that this transformed workbenches into altars and the labor of a mans hands into liturgies pleasing to God."

CLICK HERE to purchase The Search for God and Guinness


Tell her I don't want her to go

Last night as we were sitting down to dinner I got a call telling me that my Grandmother's doctor had found cancer spreading throughout her intestines. He was doing a surgery on her large intestines when he made this discovery. He said, "We'll have to keep her here for about 5 days, then all you can do is take her home and make sure she's comfortable."
We all sat at the dinner table and cried.
I got up after a while and put on my jacket to go. I told the boys, "I don't think the hospital will let little guys in there because they're worried about the swine flu. I'll let Granny know you said hi, OK guys?"
As I turned for the door Obadiah stopped me.

"Yeah Buddy?"
"Can you tell Granny something for me?"
"Sure man, what is it?"
Through his tears he said, "Tell her I don't want her to go."


The Simple Life

CLICK HERE to get the Simple Life

I just finished reading Simple Life, and I highly recommend it for you if you feel like you are too busy, or if you are trying to find focus in your life. The authors surveyed over 1,000 people and kept hearing that people were busy, stressed, nervous, and without a clear direction. The areas that needed the most work in the survey respondents were time, relationships, money and God. The authors propose that with clarity, movement, alignment and focus you can achieve the Simple Life. This is good stuff. I definitely recommend this book.

Also, if you're a church leadership type, get "Simple Church". Excellent.



what matters more?

I've been following the controversy regarding
Derek Webb's latest album, "Stockholm Syndrome" and especially the song "What Matters More". The record label threatened to shelve the album, and Derek went on a viral campaign to get the music out there. He actually released segments of tracks of the songs so that die hard fans could piece together the music! Brilliant! Anyway, the controversy at first seemed to be about adult language in one of the songs, but when I finally heard the first verse of "what matters more" I knew that there was more to it than that. Here's the first line of the first verse.

You say you always treat people like you like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality"

Whoa! Can of worms.... opened.

Let me point out that this song is not discussing whether or not homosexuality is, or is not a sin, this song is talking about the the priorities of the church.
I am of the opinion that the church invests way too much energy, time, and money into issues that just serve as a distraction from our calling. Our God is a God who hears the cries of the oppressed, and as His people our calling is to hear that cry and answer. We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus, taking His healing touch to those who are weary. We are called to feed the hungry,
clothe the naked, and give water to the thirsty.

According to the
World Health Orginization
1.1 billion people have no access to any type of improved drinking source of water. As a direct consequence:
  • 1.6 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera) attributable to lack of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation and 90% of these are children under 5, mostly in developing countries;
  • 160 million people are infected with schistosomiasis causing tens of thousands of deaths yearly; 500 million people are at risk of trachoma from which 146 million are threatened by blindness and 6 million are visually impaired;
  • intestinal helminths (ascariasis, trichuriasis and hookworm infection) are plaguing the developing world due to inadequate drinking water, sanitation and hygiene with 133 million suffering from high intensity intestinal helminths infections; there are around 1.5 million cases of clinical hepatitis A every year.
What a powerful testimony it would be if the church embraced the call to "love thy neighbor" and put all of our time, energy, money and political clout into providing clean water in the name of Jesus to our neighbors around the world? But it's so easy to get distracted from our calling when we are spending our energies debating who can and who cannot be a part of our club.

As I was listening to the song and thinking about the calling of the church I began loooking around the internet to see what kind of response this song has been getting. One of the responses that I found fascinating was Brian McLaren's take on Acts 8 as it relates to the issue of how the church should treat those with same sex attraction. Here are Brian's words:

For many years, I was like thousands of Christians: uncomfortable with the conventional approach to homosexuality - namely: it's a chosen lifestyle, and it's a sin. (I was also uncomfortable with the "anything goes" approach that was often - and falsely - presented as the only alternative.)

I knew from my many years as a pastor that sexual orientation was not a choice; I can't count the number of people who "came out" to me over the years, and never once did I have a person say, "This is a choice like any other sin issue. I'm just choosing to rebel, and if I repent, I will be different." They all had gone through months or years or decades of intense struggle and shame before coming to the point of saying, "This isn't a choice. It's a fact of my make-up. It's integral to who I am."

So, I was uncomfortable with the conventional approach, but I was unsure how to construct an alternative that was equally faithful to Scripture and faithful to the reality I saw in human beings who came to me as their pastor, friend, and family member. Over many years, that alternative has become more and more clear, and surprisingly (to some), it was a passage of Scripture that opened the way for me to see it.

While people have vigorously and sometimes viciously debated isolated verses in Leviticus, Romans, and 1 Corinthians (versus which, I explain in the book, may have very little or nothing to do with contemporary understandings of sexual orientation) ... Acts 8 was waiting with a story that is more powerful than many have realized.

It's a story about an African man who because of his race can never fit into the Jewish nation, and because of his sexual identity can never fit into the traditional family. As a eunuch, he can never be "healed" to become heterosexual. So now, through no choice of his own, he finds himself an adult who can never be categorized in traditional sexual roles. He has come to Jerusalem to worship God, but has, no doubt, been turned away - first because of his race and second because of his sexual identity: the Hebrew Scriptures explicitly excluded both Gentiles and people in his nontraditional, not-part-of-the-created-order sexual category.

Returning in his chariot to his home in a distant land, he is reading the prophet Isaiah. One passage seizes his attention. It's about a man who was led like a sheep to slaughter or a lamb to the shearers, despised and rejected, a man who would not have physical descendants, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. A disciple of Jesus named Philip runs alongside the chariot and asks the man if he understands what he is reading. The man invites Philip into the chariot and asks if the writer was writing about himself or someone else - a question that suggests this man feels the prophet is talking about him in his sexual otherness: he too will have no descendants; he too has been rejected, misunderstood, despised, shamed ... he too has been brought like a sheep or lamb before people with cutting instruments.

Philip explains that this passage can be read to describe Jesus, and he shares the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God. As they pass a body of water, the man then asks if there is anything that could hinder him from being baptized. Anything that could hinder him - his race? His sexual identity?

Imagine what Philip might have said: "I need to contact the authorities in Jerusalem to get a policy statement on this issue. Maybe we should wait a few centuries until the church is more established. Baptizing you could cause real controversy in our fragile religious community. In the interests of not offending people back home, I'll have to say no. Or at least not yet."

But Philip doesn't answer with words; he responds with immediate action. They stop the chariot, and Philip leads him into the water and baptizes him.

Neither race nor sexual identity was an obstacle for the apostles in welcoming a new brother into the community of faith. As early as Acts 8 in the story of Jesus and his apostles, the tough issues of race and sexual identity are being addressed head-on. But as we all know, as the years went on, both issues once again became obstacles. It's only in my lifetime that we have truly begun to put racism behind us - although even there, we still have a long way to go. Now, it's time for us to remove the second obstacle. Not in spite of the Bible, but because of it. We've lost a lot of ground since Acts 8. That's why I am among those who dissent from the conventional approach and attitude, appealing back to Philip's even more ancient church tradition."

I appreciate Brian's gentle and grace-full approach to this most sensitive subject.

I hope that the church can embrace our brothers and sisters that are attracted to the same sex, I hope that we can love them unconditionally, I hope that we can pray for God's best for them, I hope that we can see that we are all on level ground, at the foot of the cross, sinners, looking to Jesus as the only means of our salvation.


when in Rome...

I've been meaning to get these up here for a while. Things have been crazy busy and many of you have emailed me asking to see pics from our latest trip.
So, here they are. Katie and I went on the trip of a lifetime to Rome, Greece, and Turkey to celebrate our tenth anniversary!
This is us at the Victory Arch, or Arch of Constantine. The roads that lead to Rome from the East, West, North and South all met at this arch and the armies would return to this spot to claim victory in their battles.

This was an amazing cafe in the Campo de Fiori. If you ever get the chance go to Campo de Fiori, look for Cafe Moneserrato, ask for a table outside, some red wine and you have to try the polenta. It is TO DIE FOR!!!

You can't go to Rome without seeing the Colosseum, and you can't imagine the scale of this amazing building until you've spent the day walking around in it. It is truly breathtaking! The sense of history when you walk through those arches is just overpowering.

Right next to the Colosseum is the Forum Romano. This was basically the downtown area of Ancient Rome. The buildings were amazing. This building is showing signs of vandalism. Do you see the circular "rope burns" up high on the columns? Thieves tried to pull down these great columns to sell the marble. Thankfully they withstood the attack.

The Vatican. Majestic. So beautiful that it literally takes your breath away.

Katie didn't realize that she couldn't wear a shirt that exposed her shoulders into the Vatican so we had to buy this lovely Vatican themed scarf to cover up her dirty Western shoulders.

This is the Pantheon. This was a place of worship for those who served many gods. Pan=many, Theo=gods. The architecture was amazing. The guide told us that modern architects are completely baffled as to how the ancient builders were able to build a building, not only so large, but so perfectly balanced.

The inside of the dome of the Pantheon is architecturally perfect. It's a huge dome and the height and diameter of the interior circle form a perfect sphere within millimeters.

A trip to Rome wouldn't be complete without spending some time soaking in the sights and sounds of the Trevi Fountain. This became our favorite spot and we went back often during different times of the day to watch the crowds, feel the mist on our sunburnt faces and enjoy the soothing sounds of the fountain.

On to Greece! The Parthenon... I have wanted to check out the Parthenon for as long as I can remember. Like the Colosseum, the sense of history is overwhelming.

The view from the Acropolis is amazing. You can see the entirety of Athens and the sheer size of it is mind blowing. Athens and the surrounding areas contain over 3 million residents.

This is the view from Mars Hill, next to the Acropolis. This is the spot were ancient philosophers would gather to theorize, pontificate, and ponder existence and meaning. The Apostle Paul delivered an absolutely brilliant speech to the men of Athens at this very spot. That speech has been one of the most influential bits of Biblical history for me personally. This was a truly inspiring moment.

The Athenian Guard does not appreciate it when you giggle at their cute outfits, or the dangly bits on their clogs. They are very serious about what they do.

The Greek food was great, the wine was amazing, and the drunk Australians dancing in the street to the live Greek music was extremely entertaining.

We met up with our ship in Piraeus, a port of Athens to cruise to Turkey and the Greek Islands. We've never been on a cruise but it was great. The rocking motion takes a bit to get used to, and the water from the pool ends up all over the place, but it's a pretty cool way to travel.

Our first stop was Mykonos, and it's every bit as beautiful as everyone says that it is.

We made it just in time to catch the sunset at Paradise Beach. Paradise beach is consistently ranked as one of the top 5 most beautiful beaches in the world. Gorgeous.

Our next stop was the Muslim nation of Turkey. This is the Library at Ephesus. The story of Ephesus is amazing, and an ecological cautionary tale. Behind the Library is a vast sea of barren sand. It used to be a seaside port. The ships would come up right behind the Library and load and unload their cargo. When the Romans came to Turkey and conquered the Ephesians they pillaged all the trees for their building projects back in the mother land. With no root system to hold the soil in place a major earthquake shook loose the earth and there was a mudslide that devastated Ephesus and FILLED IN THE ENTIRE PORT. What use to be a seaside port now takes 45 minutes by bus from the modern port! The ground is barren and not a single thing grows in it. The saline content from the sea salt has rendered the soil completely useless.

Behold... The crapper. The Ephesians had a thing about the loo. These were prized seats, with plumbing and running water (that still works). They would pay top dollar to sit next to the movers and shakers of Ancient Turkey. There were hired musicians that would wander through the bathrooms entertaining the prestigious guests!

Don't judge me. You know you would have had a seat too.

The amphitheater at Ephesus is an amazing piece of ancient architecture. The Apostle Paul spoke here and this amphitheater is specifically mentioned in the Biblical book of Acts.

After Ephesus, we left Turkey and set sail for Rhodes. This ancient castle was so amazing inside.

The interiors were so incredible, the attention to detail is stunning!

After Rhodes we spent some time on Patmos, famous for being the island exile of John the Revelator. This island was used as a prison because of it's remote location. I'm not quite sure why the book of Revelations is so gloomy. Being stuck here doesn't seem so bad.

Through that doorway is the cave where John was imprisoned and wrote the book of Revelations. Again, Katie had to cover her dirty, dirty shoulders.

The iconic art was just amazing. The tiles used for these mosaics weather the ages much better than paint so we were actually permitted to touch these ancient works of art!

At our last stop we took these pirate-like boats from our ship to the beautiful city of Santorini.

To get to the village at the top of the volcanic shelf is so steep that the quickest way to get up is to rent a few donkeys! Isn't Katie adorable?

The road to the top is a long trek but once you get there the view is INCREDIBLE!!!

The beautiful architecture, brilliant whites, and deep blues look like the Greece you imagine when you close your eyes.

We stopped at a cafe to take in a beverage and wait for the sunset. This drink is made from cactus fruit. It was kind of sweet, and fruity, without being over the top sweet. It was however, over the top expensive. That drink and the beer cost over $30!

It was worth it though, to have such a great spot to watch the sunset on the last night of our cruise.

So, that's our trip. We came back refreshed, renewed, and so in love after ten years of marriage. Good times.


good quote from a good book

"The beautiful thing is to join a church that has gathered and find yourself looking around thinking, 'What could this group of people possibly have in common?' The answer of course, would be the new humanity. A church where the two people groups with blue hair -young men, and old women- sit together and somehow it all fits together in a Eucharistic sort of way.
Try marketing that. Try branding that. The new humanity defies trends and demographics and the latest market research.
In Acts 8 some of Jesus first followers are healing people, and a man named Simon sees this and offers them money and says, 'Give me also this ability.' Simon is seduced into thinking that the movement of the Spirit of God is a commodity to be bought and sold like any other product. The apostles chastise him for his destructive thinking because the Eucharist is not a product.
Glossy brochures have the potential to do great harm to the body and blood.
Church is people.
The Eucharist is people.
People who have committed themselves to being a certain way in the world. To try to brand that is to risk commodifying something intimate, sacred, and holy.
A church is not a center for religious goods and services, where people pay a fee and receive a product in return. A church is not an organization that surveys its demographic to find out what the market is demanding at this particular moment and then adjusts its strategy to meet that consumer niche.
The way of Jesus is the path of descent. It's about our death. It' our willingness to join the world in its suffering, it's our participation in the new humanity, it's our weakness calling out to others in their weakness.
To turn that into a product blasphemes the Eucharist.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus led a passover meal unlike any other. He took the bread and the cup and connected these symbols with himself. He told them, 'do this in remembrance of me.'
The 'do this' is understood to be the taking of the bread and the cup as the body and blood of Christ.
So we take it and we taste. We reflect and we remember. We sing and we pray. We take part in this two thousand year old ritual. Some of us 'do this' in a church service, some every day, and others with a small group of friends. We 'do this' in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of places with all sorts of diversity. Some of us 'do this' with chants, and some of us in silence. In some settings a priest or a pastor or an elder or a leader serves us, and in other settings people serve each other, and in other gatherings people serve themselves.
We do this in remembrance of Jesus because the ritual moves us, it changes us, it humbles us, it brings us together.
Just try to do this with someone you are not speaking to. You'll end up reconciling or at least speaking or at least being more understanding and more compassionate.
But what if Jesus meant something else-something beyond the ritual? What if he was talking about our actually enacting what the ritual is all about over and over, again and again, year after year? What if the 'do this' he primarily meant wasn't the ritual he was leading his disciples through at the moment. What if the 'do this' was his whole way of life?
He has chosen the path of descent; he comes into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a horse, with children, not soldiers, weeping, humble. And he dies, naked, bleeding, thirsty, alone.
Maybe that's what he meant when he says, 'do this in remebrance of me.' The 'do this' part is our lives. Opening ourselves up to the mystery of the resurrection, open for the liberation of others, allowing our bodies to be broken and our blood to be poured, discovering our Eucharist. Listening, and going.

Because when we do this in remembrance of him, the world will never be the same.

We will never be the same."