Set Loose!

I am not great at this, but I want to learn! (There are those out there who model this skill very well.)


My first response to almost all of my culture (American culture and Church culture) is critique. My response to other cultures, however, is largely to listen, learn, ask questions, reflect, affirm, and then seek to redirect towards the Kingdom...

...affirmation and Redirection!

This unfortunately, causes me to approach with contempt the group to which I am a missionary! I need to learn the desire for redemption of culture as the first response! Not critique, nor blind allegiance, but redemption!

To redeem is to buy the freedom of someone who has been enslaved. We must buy-back the good in our culture that the enemy has stolen!

This means that we must look first for the good!


We find ourselves, as followers of the Messiah, in the position of being attacked by a man enslaved. He does not attack us at his own bidding, but rather by his master who has chained him. I must admit, my first tendency is not to loose the chains but rather to punch at the man wearing them.


Halford Luccock

You remember that among the Franks, whole armies were sometimes given baptism at one stroke, and many warriors went into the water with their right hands held high so that they did not get wet. Then they could say, “This hand has never been baptized,” and they could swing their battle axes just as freely as ever. The modern counterpart of that partial baptism is seen in many people who have been baptized, all except their pocketbooks. They held these high out of the water.

And We're Off!!!

Cory and I leave today for the Dominican Republic!


The Importance of the Big Picture

"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."
Sun Tzu (400 BC–330 BC)

A Taste pt II

There is a form of thought (often called 'Modern' in philosophical conversation) that bends itself toward concrete analysis. It is a way of approaching the world that seeks to reduce everything to the smallest possible unit, in order to understand its functions, attributes, relationship to the whole, and so to approach knowledge of the universe.

These people ask, "Is the apple real? Can we know anything about the apple? What is it's color, texture, weight, and size?"

Moderns talk only of the observable truth of the apple; it is solid, actionable, universal, public knowledge. This is the strength of modern thought. It allows us to build buildings that withstand earthquakes, to raise large metal objects into the sky for extended periods of time, discover unique compounds of matter that removes pests, or alter certain plant species to make them yield greater caloric output for the same resource input. (Even in this list, is the beginning of the critique!) Modern thought has many strengths, its weakness, however, is its impersonal and calculating heart.

This type of thought yields tremendous evidence for the existence of the apple. There are hard arguments about its makeup. These arguments are convincing, but...

...the apple is dissected and categorized but untasted, it is understood and yet, not understood.


This same approach is taken to spiritual matters. As ~eljeffe points out, "I wonder if these common battles lead the earlier Church to develop the famous "Creeds" that have been recited over the generations." Concrete thoughts and definitions are deeply needed, however (while the Creeds are a formulation of a premodern Church) the people of God in Modern times have adopted Modern thought uncritically. The emphasis has become convincing argument, propositional truth claims, often to the exclusion (or even outright disparaging) of experience...

We understand the map, we dissect the apple, we recite the Creed; but we do not take the journey, eat the apple, or listen to Jesus.

Combating Evil

"And Abraham’s a bit of a shaky character too in various ways, because the people who are called to be the bearers of the solution are also part of the problem."

N.T. Wright


A Taste pt I

Just the other day I had someone tell me, "That's true for them, but not for me."

This led to a long conversation.


I said, "Can it really be true for me and not for you?"

My friend responded, "Sure, you tell me the apple is sweet, but when I try it, I say it is bitter. One is true for you, the other is true for me."

"But surely the statement, 'This apple taste sweet on that tongue,' is true for all people at all times?" I replied.

My friend retorted, "Okay, then 'This person believes that to be true,' is also true for all people at all times, but that doesn't make what 'this person believes' true for all people!"

I responded, "But, isn't that begging the question as to whether spiritual knowledge is describing how the apple tastes on my tongue? Shouldn't we be trying to determine whether spiritual knowledge is describing how the apple tastes to me, or information about the existence, substance, and attributes of the apple? Or even information about the nutritional and culinary benefits of an apple?"


I am fascinated by the fact that most people who express this sentiment believe they are 'free-thinkers' who are rebelling against the mass of cultural opinion. The truth is, of course, the opposite; they are actually expressing popular opinions that they have been inculcated with via various sources of cultural influence.

The main reason they don't recognize this influence is that it rarely takes the form of explicit argument, but rather takes the form of implicit story. This brought me to some reflection on the contrast between these two forms of thought and the subsequent world-views produced.


Pastor Rob

If your relationship with God doesn’t bring you into conflict with your culture, then you need to reevaluate you relationship with God.



"If the things we believe in are different than the things we do, there can be no true happiness."
Dana Telford



"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it."
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)


A Bloody Dream

For only the second time in my life I had a prophetic dream.

This was several months ago when I was in Texas with friends.

In my dream I was with a friend from my childhood. He and I had spent many years as friends, but haven't talked much with each other since I moved East.

My friend was not living with God, and his life was being destroyed by it. In my dream there was a real sense of urgency, as though God was offering him a choice with drastic consequences...

I felt strongly that God wanted to give something to my friend, then (while I was still dreaming) God spoke to me about my friend, "I want to make him a father to the fatherless."


I immediately woke up, and jolted upright in my bed.

I began to pray for my friend. A few minutes later I realized that I was wide awake and was unable to go back to sleep. I decided to go into the hotel bathroom to read so as not to wake my wife.

When I walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror, my face was covered with blood!

In somewhat of a daze I walked back into the room to see that my pillow also had blood all over it. I woke my wife and shared what happened with her.


Later that day I was able to call my friend and share with him what had happened. I wish he had cried out to God. He didn't. But he did acknowledge the message that was given in the dream. I continue to pray that God would give him the gift, and that my friend would receive it.


Without Belief

"The abdication of belief makes the behavior small."
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)


Change the World, Start in Santa Cruz

The Process Supersedes the Result

"In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969)


Context is Important!

Like a Child

The other day I was invited to share at another church in town. Tamy worked the night before so she was unable to go with me, but she laid out a specific outfit for the kids to wear because she worried I would take the kids out in public in dirty clothes. Such is my wife's faith in my fashion sense...

As we were getting ready to go, I noticed Zane wasn't wearing the shorts and shirt that I had dressed him in (the ones Tamy had laid out).

I asked, "Zane, how come you aren't wearing the clothes I dressed you in?"

"I'm wearing pants, because you're wearing pants, Papa!" he exclaimed.


St Paul tells us to "watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents."

We are designed to take our cues from God, just the way my son takes his cues from me...


As St James says, true wisdom for life comes from somewhere else. It is not something we just muster up ourselves, or find on our own; we must learn it. Wisdom must be received!

Do we have ears to hear and eyes to see? Like a child with his father, are our arms wide to receive?


Dorothy Sayers

The Man Born to Be King

King Herod tells the magi: "You cannot rule men by love. When you find your king, tell him so. Only three things will govern a people--fear and greed and the promise of security."

Action Reveals Character

"Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)


The American Caesar

"After all, in a democracy ‘Caesar’ is ‘all of us’, and though we have Presidents and Prime Ministers the critique of ‘empire’ is more complicated now than it was in the first century."

NT Wright



(Click on the title link to a fascinating NT Wright article on a book about CS Lewis)

Donegality is essentially a way of getting at the experience of something in contrast to the knowledge of something. The difference between contemplation and enjoyment. I can contemplate a piece of music, or I can enjoy it...

The article explores the possibility that Lewis' seven book series was intended to help people enjoy something without contemplating it; that hiding the explicit viewpoint being expressed would help people to see the world through the viewpoint, instead of merely looking at the viewpoint itself. It is the difference between looking at a pair of glasses, and wearing them...


Comfort Anesthetizes the Conscience of Justice...

(...sorry about the foul language!)

Good movie, this scene is a great illustration as to how the consent of the willfully ignorant majority is the power that enables a fundamentally unjust system to perpetuate itself. We live in a world where "two-thirds of the world is starving to death, while the other third argue about sex;" we are the top of the food chain, and our cultural prestige is maintained by the efforts of those at the bottom.

Sure, we don't do it intentionally, sure we don't see the injustice. ...but intuitively we know. Our whole system is fundamentally unjust but we try to maintain the status quo by shunning those who question it. We keep our hands over our eyes, and our fingers in our ears, and we get mad at those who try to pull our hands away. We talk about 'individual responsibility' while we shop for sweat-shop-manufactured-goods. We deify 'personal property rights' in an era with the highest rate of slavery in world history. We talk about 'social mobility' when the American poor grow up in the midst of violent neighborhoods, sub-standard medical care, twinkies and doritos for dinner 5 nights a week, and illiterate parents.

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."
Rabbi Yeshua bin Yusef
(tortured to death in Palestine for threatening the status quo)

"When I feed the poor they call me a saint, when I ask, 'Why are they poor?' they call me a communist."
Bishop Romero
(assasinated in El Salvador for speaking out on behalf of the oppressed)


Ba-Boom-Boom Sunday Recap

We had quite an open dialogue...

There is certainly more conversation to be had on the subject. But it seemed like good progress...

We do have people who are clearly wrestling with what they think, but everyone seemed committed to an open conversation, and God's will. Just about everyone in the room participated in some way (and those who didn't were clearly attentive!) and many had some deep insight, or more often, expressed deep emotional concern.

I was quite blessed to be a part of such a dialogue!


We spent a little time addressing the specific details of what scripture says about sex and homosexuality, but spent more time talking about how we should approach people, how we should approach scripture, and how we should approach God.

The focus was predominantly on homosexuality, and so was perhaps less practical for most people than a discussion of sex, gender, and sexuality more broadly...

We could easily spend several Sunday's on the topic!


I did, however, have one of my friends suggest we intentionally include a voice from the affirming perspective. We had a few in the room who were ambiguous, and many who were of the conservative perspective. But no one who was arguing that same-gender sex acts aren't sinful.

It made me think about doing some sort of forum with two or three other pastors in town, but I don't know how public I wanna be on this topic!


It wouldn't be fun to be on record as a bigot in my neighborhood...

Careful Attention

"My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to Him..."

Excerpted from a letter written by Saul of Tarsus to the disciples in Turkey.


A Good Christian

One is sometimes glad not to be a great theologian, it is so easily confused with being a good Christian.


Double Entendre pt II

As a disciple of Jesus, it may be sad to see Christian communities disintegrate, leaving behind their beautiful buildings to rot, or be converted to other uses.

But what is infinitely more horrifying to see, is the abundance of Christian communities who are still in existence but fail at the very mission for which God created the church in the first place.


We are saddened by the Church-turned-storage-unit. But is our church anything other than a place to store Christians for the rapture? Is our functional definition of church simply 'what to do with Christians after they get saved and before they die?' Is church the method by which we hermetically seal ourselves from contact with the outside world? Or do our gatherings, sermons, songs, projects, programs, and buildings serve a greater purpose?

We must heed this lesson; do we exist to pursue God's redemptive purposes on the earth, or are we just waiting for Him let us out of the storage locker we call Church when its time to 'go to heaven?'


We shake our heads at the Church-turned-business-center. We roll our eyes at the Church-turned-music-hall. But is our church anything other than a center for commerce? Do we 'go to church' for any reason other than personal entertainment? Isn't personal preference the real reason we choose a church? Don't we attempt to build our 'successful churches' by creating programs that entertain and meet people's needs?

We need to pay attention here; do we exist to entertain and be entertained? ...do we exist merely to provide and consume religious goods and services?


We are depressed by the Church-full-of-weeds-and-drug-deals, we drive by the ruins with painful hearts. But is there life in our existing communities? ...and lest we mistake activity for life; lives spent examining and proclaiming the value of God, not great music and charismatic experience once a week; broken people restored and lives intimately intertwined, not plastic smiles and plastic conversations on Sunday morning; sacrificial living during the week, not sacrificial giving on Sunday morning; an open table in our living room all week, not merely an open table on Sunday morning.

We must not have our fingers in our ears, nor our hands over our eyes! What is the point of our existing Church communities?


So, in spite of the fact that we should be saddened at the loss of many vibrant communities of faith who have abandoned their post in the City of Buffalo, we should also be grateful for the parable told in stone and mortar, and vigilant that we 'have ears to hear and eyes to see.'

They serve as a reminder to us...


Double Entendre pt I

This building is on the corner of Bird and West on the Westside of Buffalo. At one time this was the meeting place for a thriving Church. In recent years, the people no longer worship God in the space. It is no longer an epicenter for relationship and purpose, but has found a new incarnation as a collection of storage units.


This building is on the corner of Ferry and Elmwood in the Elmwood Village area of Buffalo. It too, was once a center of worship and community, but has been recently turned into a suite of offices and businesses. What once was a center for life is now a commercial center.


This is the headquarters of Righteous Babe Records. It was once a center for worship. Now it is the headquarters and performance center for Ani DeFranco, a musical entertainer.


There are buildings all over Buffalo that once held events to glorify God, but now are completely empty. They grow only weeds, and harbor only midnight drug users...


Many decry the loss of churches in the Cities of America, and Buffalo in particular. Churches are closing down their buildings, selling them, acknowledging that the communities that own the buildings have long since abandoned any sense of mission to the surrounding neighborhood. They have, in fact, largely moved to the suburbs, and no longer live in the area, much less care for it.

But there is a much more insidious problem to attend to, and a much more important lesson to be learned here...

Ba-Boom-Boom Sunday

Two weeks ago a discussion broke out in church regarding the christian response to homosexuality and the homosexual community. It was too much for that Sunday (we were already in the midst of another discussion) so we settled on today to continue the discussion.

So I have a few introductory ideas, and some conversational ground rules, but will be opening this up for the church to discuss. I have some passages to look at if we need them, but won't be doing too much preaching...

Of course, I didn't realize we were scheduling our sex talk for Gay Pride Sunday.


Yesterday morning I was met by a woman who was going out to 'do battle' against the Gay Pride parade, and she encouraged me to pray likewise.

I also have at least two evangelical pastor friends who are convinced that same gender sexual activity is not sinful.

I guess we need to be having this conversation...


My new friend Japhet, from Tanzania, calls sex 'Ba-Boom-Boom.'

So 'Ba-Boom-Boom Sunday' here we come!

(I'll let you know how it goes)


"The poor man is not he who is without a cent, but he who without a dream."
Harry Kemp



"One person with a belief is equal to a force of 99 who have only interest."
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)


Bill Hybels

The local Church is the hope of the world.



"The value of principle is the number of things it will explain."
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)