Category Archives: practical theology

A Writing Shift and a Sabbatical for In a Mirror Dimly

This blog wasn’t my idea. I don’t think many readers know that.

I had just graduated from seminary with a degree that I didn’t want to use in a church job when a close friend from New Jersey dropped me an email. We had been living pretty far apart for a few years, and a move to Vermont loomed on the horizon for me. Our mornings discussing theology at diners were sadly a thing of the past, but he had set up this blog called to keep our discussions going.

In the early days back in 2005, we both posted on the site. Then my friend’s busy work schedule ate up all of his writing time. I was still in full-blown ministry/church/career crisis mode. This blog became my therapist. I dumped everything here. It got ranty and preachy more than I would have liked.

After releasing my first book Coffeehouse Theology, I started moving the blog more toward issues of discipleship and Bible study without delving directly into more academic theology, systematics, or philosophy. I envisioned this blog to be a place that made solid Bible study and theology accessible and practical for people who want to follow Jesus.

Around 2010 I also had a strong sense that God was calling me to serve and help other writers. I’d only published one book commercially, so I didn’t think I could serve others as an expert. I also didn’t know how to do that as part of this blog that was more focused on making theology accessible.

In a sense, I’ve lived a double calling here since then. I published A Path to Publishing and organized the Renew and Refine Retreat for writers. I also kept publishing practical Bible study/theology books: Hazardous, Unfollowers, The Good News of Revelation, and A Christian Survival Guide.

Over the past few years my blog topics at have started shifting more toward prayer and writing, even if I still weigh in on something I’ve learned through studying scripture or praying the hours. My writing has shifted enough that this blog doesn’t quite fit where I sense myself going personally. I’ve also grown a bit weary of writing about theology in an increasingly fractured evangelical subculture.

I’m not shutting things down here. I’m not even saying that I’m done here. I just need a break. I need a year to sort out where this blog fits and whether it should be a part of my writing ministry moving forward.

Here’s the plan…

I’m moving my blogging over to my writer site: Having a blog under my own name gives me some flexibility to explore topics outside of the narrow realm of “theology” without feeling like I’m pulling a bait and switch on my readers. If anything, this new site gives me the freedom I need to evolve as a writer.

As most writers can tell you, sometimes you just need to write that “draft” and see where it takes you. 

If you’ve been reading over the past few years, you won’t notice a major change at the site. If anything, I’m publicly owning a shift that has already taken place. The biggest change will be the periodic post about writing or a promotion for people exploring publishing. The content about prayer, discipleship, and Bible study will remain.

I am deeply grateful that you’ve been a part of my blogging and book publishing journey. I’m as committed to serving the church and fellow writers through my blogging as ever, and I would love for you to join me at my place. If you subscribed through Feedblitz, I’ve already migrated you over to my new email RSS feed through MailChimp. Check your “promotions” folder if you haven’t received an email for a while.

For RSS subscribers, I’ll need to you to sign up for my new RSS feed. You have two options: email subscription or adding the RSS feed to your feed reader (check out Feedly or Feedspot).

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Thanks for your time! I’ll see you at the new blog!

Reimagining Good Friday: Why Would Anyone Want to Kill Jesus?

If you stepped into a room full of Christians, skeptics, and atheists and asked, “Who likes Jesus?” there’s a good chance almost every hand would go up. Even those who deny the divinity of Jesus think he was pretty swell.

Taking things a step further, if you walked into the same room and asked, “Who wants to kill Jesus?” I doubt a single hand would go up.

Ignore Jesus? Sure. Plenty of people do that today. But actually plotting to kill a guy who healed lame people, fed the multitudes, and elevated the social standing of women?

Not cool.

In fact, I would argue that the reasons for the conspiracy behind the execution of Jesus are a bit of a mystery for modern readers. Do we fully grasp the reasons why a bunch of people, who really wanted God to show up, would murder God when he actually did show up as promised?

cross Good Friday Jesus

It’s a mystery of sorts, and we have to step back into their world, kicking our imaginations into high gear.

Read the rest at my other blog: 

The Stations of the Cross: Jesus Before Pilate

My friend Emily Miller has put together a great series of blog posts walking through the stations of the cross through a series of posts meditating on each one. Today I’m writing about the story of Jesus before Pilate, but be sure to follow along with the rest of the posts

The story of Jesus and Pilate has long frustrated me.

Pilate stood in judgment over Jesus, the author of life, the Word of God and the Son of God. How in the world could God incarnate let a mere man judge him, let alone win? Why would Jesus submit to the trumped-up charges and injustice brought against him?

Pilate, wearing his fine robes, stood before a bloodied Jesus with the military might of Rome behind him, seemingly invincible and all-powerful. However, the mere snap of the finger by Jesus could have brought him and his legions to the ground, stone cold dead.

Why hold back his power? Why let Rome and the corrupt religious leaders win?

Read the Rest at Emily Miller’s Blog

We Know Where to Find Jesus, But What If We Don’t Want to Go There?

By the time John the Baptist reevaluated his entire life calling in the prison at Herod’s palace, Jesus was well on his way out into the wilderness. Nothing added up. If Jesus was the Messiah, why wasn’t he in control of Herod’s Palace? Why were the corrupt priests still ministering in the temple? Why were the Romans still taxing, demeaning, and executing his people? 

Why wasn’t Jesus in control? 

John couldn’t make sense of the power that Jesus exerted throughout his ministry. John expected a Messiah who would take over. Instead, he got a Messiah who wandered in the wilderness, healed the outcasts, forgave notorious sinners, and spoke about a vague Kingdom of God without ever crowning himself king. 

How could Jesus be a king without the office and position of a king? 

The riddle of Jesus was as confounding to John as it would be for us today. There’s no doubt that many Christians today would struggle to believe in and follow a religious “leader” like Jesus who wasn’t married, didn’t have a large following, and never assumed any kind of official office or put together an organization/denomination. 

Jesus wasn’t organized, systematized, or influential according to our own terms. While he had a certain amount of authority and clout because of his powerful teachings and miracles, he never took on a formal position. That latter point made no sense to John. 

I was reminded of these lessons about John from my book Unfollowers when I read a post by Sarah Bessey over the weekend. Sarah gives evangelicals “permission” to step away from labels, traditions, and positions for a season in order to grieve and to rediscover what following Jesus may look like for them. Everything in her post resonates with my own experiences in evangelicalism: the need to grieve its worst parts, the desire for distance and space, and the reassembling of my faith out in the wilderness apart from religious structures. 

We don’t get to remake faith according to our own terms. We can only seek out Jesus wherever he may be found, and as the story of John the Baptist teaches us, Jesus spent a lot of time in the wilderness. 

Like John, we all crave some sort of validation, an external marker that tells everyone: “Look, I’m on the right side!” 

We can feel the tension of Jesus’ audience all over the pages of scriptures. His disciples asked when they would be able to reign on thrones with him. They followed him to his ascension asking if he was finally going to restore the kingdom of Israel. They wanted clear, external validation that they were on the right side. 

I can feel the same tension today. I’ve always wanted to be associated with a group that is successful and right. Whether that’s been a group of fundamentalists destined to be raptured someday soon or a rag tag band of progressive evangelicals who are trying to figure out prayer and service to the poor, I want my choices to be validated by institutions and groups. I want to belong to something bigger than myself and to have a kind of position or rank or recogniztion within that group. 

Jesus consistently denied his followers any kind of office or position. They were just a bunch of uneducated nobodies who followed that “Messiah-wanna-be” for three years. They never received any kind of validation or position that meant a thing among their contemporaries. Jesus even discouraged them from taking the title “rabbi.” 

And so where does that leave us? 

Can we find contentment on the margins and in the wilderness, with only the validation that comes from Jesus? Do we need positions, titles, labels, or recognition in order to serve, bless, or pray? Do we need an institution to recognize us? 

As much as I crave the roots and traditions of my faith, I have also seen how institutions and power structures can become a snare and an idol all their own. I live daily with the tension of seeking to learn from the founders of my faith while also embracing the wilderness that Jesus has called me into. 

At some point every day, I have to face my desire for validation and recognition within a structure or organization. Most importantly, as I stand in the prison made of my own desires, I wonder where Jesus is. Why isn’t he here with me? Why hasn’t he given me what I want? 

The answer is found in the barren wildnerness where titles are never given and have no value any way. I can follow Jesus out there, but I have to let go of my own plans first. In that sense, I have quite a bit in common with John the Baptist. 

The Correct Theology Didn’t Help These Guys: My Guest Post for Micah J. Murray

I’m guest posting for my friend Micah J. Murray, a talented up-and-coming writer who has written some of the most powerful blog posts I’ve read over the past two years. After you read my post, be sure to subscribe to his blog.

They witnessed miracles. They listened to hours and hours of perfect, undeniably correct teaching. They’d even had the future predicted for them.

They still doubted.

When calamity struck, they bolted. They didn’t join their friends in prayer. They didn’t wait for clarity. While they had every reason to believe, they couldn’t make sense of their experiences. Doubt was too much for them.

I wish we knew more about those two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus. There’s no doubt that they possessed more accurate information about Jesus than we could ever know. They’d lived the story of Jesus. They saw miracles. They listened to his teaching. They knew his death was coming.

At the times when things don’t add up about Christianity or the Bible, there are times when I can relate to their desire to run away.

I take comfort that Jesus showed up even as they ran away.

Read the Rest at Redemption Pictures.

World Vision, Consumerism, and Replacing Children Like Cell Phones

World VisionGiving to charity can become yet another facet of American consumerism.

As Americans consume more technology, food, clothing, and furniture, giving to charity can alleviate guilt over our affluence. We can make a donation, and it could save us from asking hard questions about our lifestyles. We can say, “At least I’ve done something.”

I’ve seen the influence of consumerism in the way some former World Vision donors are planning to simply “swap” their sponsored children for another, supposedly morally pure model. If they don’t like the  decisions of World Vision when it comes to its hiring practices, they can just switch their loyalty to another charity brand and pick up another kid to support.

It’s consumerism running amuck in our benevolence.

World Vision is one of many charities that has attempted to overcome the cold financial transaction of charitable giving with something far better: relationship. By linking donors directly with children, they offer them a chance to develop a relationship.

A donation to charity can become just another notch in a consumer’s to do list, as if that donation relieave them of guilt or an obligation. I think we can all sense that tension when we donate money to a worthy cause. However, when your money is directly tied to the well-being of a child you know by name, whose face you see in a picture every day, you have a chance to move beyond merely alleviating your moral guilt. You can become a partner, perhaps even a distant surrogate family.

You can swap pictures, share stories, and become involved in each other’s lives.

Many donors at World Vision and other charities get this, but in light of World Vision’s shift in hiring practices, it’s likely that at least 2,000 donors didn’t get the point of it all. Unconfirmed reports on Twitter have mentioned:

These former donors didn’t see the value of the relationships with their children when there was a tiny, minute risk that the purity of their donations could be “corrupted” by the future presence of LGBT, married Christians. Within mere days of the announcement about World Vision’s policy change, over 2,000 donors dropped their kids. Relationships? Done.

Just… like… that…

Welcome to American consumerism kids.

For those former donors the relationships with children in need didn’t take center stage. They were more committed to the culture wars and the impact of their donations on themselves than they were on the impact on the children whom they’d committed to support. 

We can argue all day over whether World Vision truly took a step toward middle ground by allowing married, LGBT Christians onto their staff. I believe they did all that they could to remain open to both camps in Christianity, even if the more conservative side defines compromise in very strict terms. We may argue whether World Vision went too far and who caused this “crisis.” That end of this debate will go on and on among a continually dwindling number of Christians.

However, there is no debating that those who dropped children over this issue have illustrated that they never really understood the way World Vision works in the first place. They didn’t grasp the importance of personally connecting with the children they sponsored. When you’re in a relationship with a child through a charity, you don’t hold children accountable for hiring policy changes at the charity. For these donors, remaining holy and adopting a moral high ground in evangelical culture meant more than ensuring their children receive 3 meals a day and can attend school.

These former World Vision donors behaved exactly as you would expect consumers to act and nothing like you would expect a family to behave–at least, a healthy family.

Seeing all of this unfold reminds me just how important it is to put people before our personal dogmas and culture wars. Seeing the ugliness of this conflict reminds me of why Jesus told us that loving God and our neighbors are the first two commandments. If there is ever a tough decision we need to make, our first question should be: Is this decision loving or harming my neighbor? 

World Vision has given us the gift of relationships with precious children. Our financial support for them is but a small part of the transaction. The larger good is that we get to be a part of these promising young lives.

We can be a part of restoring these relationships. We can let these kids know that they aren’t rejected or abandoned, that they aren’t just commodities we can swap like cell phones, that their stories matter to us and that we will help them find the support they need.

You can support a child today at World Vision.

You can also contact Nish Weiseth if you know of a child who has lost support.  


My Least Favorite Gospel Stories: When Jesus Alienates His Family

I wish that following Jesus made family relationships easier. When I wrote about his homecoming to Nazareth for Unfollowers, I was reminded that theology and family don’t always mix well.

In Luke 4 we read that Jesus returned to Nazareth in the power of the Spirit and made an of announcement about his ministry. His talk in the synagogue went well, people spoke in glowing terms of his teaching, and it sounded like they supported his ministry. However, things quickly went downhill.

I wish that the friends and family of Jesus from his home town embraced his message. Instead they insulted him, suggesting that he was no teacher or religious authority. They said he was just as ill as everyone else and that he should focus on healing himself rather than others.

Jesus could have just walked away and settled in his cozy fishing village by the Sea of Galilee. Rather, Jesus spoke like a prophet, announcing that he would take his message to the Gentiles and that they would listen. For the Jewish people who identified themselves as God’s chosen people, there was no insult more cutting than this.

While there’s no denying that the mission of God throughout the New Testament has consistently been to make one people out of the Jews and Gentiles, the proclamation from Jesus was understood as a loss and an insult to their Jewish identity.

Years of military conflict, ethnic strife, and exploitation had further fueled the anger of the people in Nazareth toward the Gentiles. However, Jesus wasn’t one to let history dictate the plans of God to reconcile all people together as one. He was blunt and honest.

In my own experience, I’ve tried to be direct and blunt about my beliefs with my family. Sometimes I was insensitive and  even wrong. Sometimes I stuck to my beliefs, and my relationships suffered for years as a result.

I’m encouraged to know that Jesus’ mother eventually came around, moving from doubter who thought him crazy to one of the disciples baptized with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. However, in this story at least, Jesus was clearly at odds with his friends and family, and he essentially dumped gasoline on it all before striking a match.

God’s salvation is going to the Gentiles?

That’s heresy.

It was bad enough that the people tried to toss Jesus over a cliff.

I don’t know how close they got to actually throwing him over the edge, but the simple fact that this was even remotely possible drives home how ugly things can get when we are at odds with family members over our beliefs.

How Did Jesus Reconcile with His Family and Friends?

As distrubing as it is to read that Jesus was nearly killed when he returned to his home town, there is a glimmer of hope in the Gospels. After all, even James, the brother of Jesus, became a leader of the church in Jerusalem. 

We don’t know all of the details, but there’s one simple detail we dare not overlook: time. 

Over the passage of time, the offensiveness of Jesus faded for at least some of his friends and family members. 

In my own experiences, time can do much to mend relationships. We can only do so much to reconcile with family and friends when we’re split over our religious beliefs. At times we won’t see any progress, and we’ll start to wonder whether things will ever change. 

At a certain point, Jesus got through to his family or his family at least bonded together when the Jewish leaders plotted to kill him. However it happened, many of the people closest to Jesus went from angry mob, to insulting doubters, to grieving disciples, to Spirit empowered disciples. 

There Is Hope for Divided Families

The story of Jesus’ conflict with his home town and family offers us the kind of hope we can overlook–the hope that conflicts with loved ones and trusted friends can essentially evaporate over time. As days, weeks, months, and years pass, we may not arrive at unity or agreement, but the edges of our arguments can dull over time. 

As the years pass we’ll change, rethink our priorities, and see each other with different perspectives. We may even find peace with each other over the issues that once upset us the most.