Post-Evangelical Pastor and Leader Gathering

Join other post-evangelical pastors and leaders October 12-13 to connect, learn from one another, and know that you’re not alone

For a while now I’ve been connecting with pastors and leaders who feel like they don’t belong anywhere in the church landscape. The phrase we’ve borrowed from Jason Miller is that we feel ecclesiologically homeless. Folks who once had a tribe but for various reasons no longer feel at home on that tribe. Post-evangelical seems to be the best term that’s currently being used to describe this space. 

On a weekly basis, I’m connecting with pastors and other leaders who find the boundaries of evangelicalism too narrow for our experience of God and its politics corrupted by an un-Christlike vision. Who seek a more just and inclusive expression of faith, but also reject the temptation to trade one exclusionary stance for another in the effort to address the need for justice and inclusion. Who believe in the importance of deconstruction, but also believe in rebuilding faith as followers of Jesus. Who see the Spirit moving through new ideas and theological visions, but who also embrace the depth and breadth of historical faith. 

It’s a really unique and beautiful crew of people who are doing significant things in the church, and I’ve been working to find ways to build community in this space, to help these leaders find one another, and to figure out how to help each other and share resources. 

We’ve been trying to figure out a way to be together in one space. Not to hear more content from the stage, but to build relationships, to learn from one another, and to see the larger movement that the Spirit is stirring beyond our local context. 

So, October 12-13 in South Bend, Indiana we’re going to gather together to do that. Brit Barron and Scott Erickson will serve as sort of spiritual guides for our time – creating space for us to encounter the Spirit.  But a lot of our time will be focused on creating space for conversations – both guided and unguided. There is going to be no cost, in order to make it as accessible as possible for whoever would like to be a part. 

Creating Space for New Constructs

“I would die for you”

No one had ever said that to me before. But as this man, who was clearly a former Navy Seal, explained to me the reason he sat where he did in church was in case someone came into the church shooting. He fully intended to jump in front of me and take a bullet for me.

A few weeks later one of our female Pastors preached. He came up to me with the same fervency and wanted to know why I would “allow” a woman to preach in the church.

That was the last time I saw him.

I guess he meant to say, “I’ll take a bullet for you…until you do something I disagree with. Then you’re on your own”

“You should speak with confidence the things you believe God is calling you to say”

She told me that after overhearing me share that I guarded the way I would preach. And that while I never preached anything I believed to be untrue, I often held back and didn’t share what I believed to be fully true.

Alongside a few other experiences, her encouragement helped to give me the courage to start offering some challenges in sermons that seemed to me to be what the Gospel would look like in our time and place. It felt freeing to speak with confidence the things that I believed God was calling me to say.

She apparently didn’t think I was listening to God correctly, or maybe God had told her I was supposed to be saying something different. Either way, she let me know her displeasure that I had taken her advice when she made it clear that she believed I did not treat the Scriptures with respect.

One of the things I’ve come to realize is that some people don’t actually want a pastor, what they’re looking for is a puppet. We’re often looking for someone who will simply reinforce the worldview that we came with. We talk about wanting to be discipled, until we are personally confronted and challenged and then we cry foul.

For many in the church, we hit a point when we think we’ve got it. If we’ve grown up in the church, it’s a view of God and faith that was taught to us in our teenage years. If we came to faith later in life, it’s often the views that were passed on to us early in our life of faith.

The problem is that while those views made sense at those stages, at some point there is more depth and complexity that you are able to move into. That depth and complexity, however, often feels to us like we’re violating the earlier view we had. So, we fight against it, seeking out people who will simply provide new information that reinforces what we already believe, and then we’ll call them deep.

The secret that many pastors are holding onto is that they know in order to keep certain groups and people in the church, they have parameters on what they can say and what they can’t say, regardless of what they believe is fully true.

It’s set up a system in many churches in America that the early church leader Paul warns against when he tells his young apprentice Timothy, that in order to suit their own desires, people will gather around themselves teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear.

That was often given to me as a warning to “not give in to culture”. But I’ve actually experienced it much more in the church. Where people gravitate towards churches, and who expect their pastors to tell them what their itching ears want to hear.

I’m reminded of what’s described in the old parable of the French Revolutionary who sees crowds of people running by and says, “there go my people. I must follow them so I can see where I’m supposed to lead them”.

In every generation, there are movements within the church that challenge the status quo. Movements that talk about God and faith in ways that make those who are most comfortable in the established systems incredibly uncomfortable. We often don’t realize how radical these movements are because we have adopted their language, theologies, and structures and missed the fact that we probably would have been fighting against them had we been there while it was happening.

Maybe it’s uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Maybe it’s not the way you would phrase it or the way you think about it, but maybe that’s why you need to hear it.

You’ll never go beyond where you are now unless you’re willing to let go of the constructs that brought you to the place where you are. Jesus says you have to be willing to lose your life.

We’ll never go forward as long as we’re clinging to what was and what has been.

My Top Books from 2020

One of my reflections every year is to spend some time reviewing the books that I read during the year. It gives me a picture of what I was processing and being challenged by. It’s a great catalogue of new thoughts taking root and new ideas that are percolating. The early Christian leader, Paul of Tarsus would say that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. I have become convinced that unless we are allowing ourselves to think new thoughts, being challenged in the way we think and how we understand the world, we will move towards atrophy. Books are one of the great gifts that are a part of the process of renewing our minds.

This year, one thing that was shocking to me during all of the COVID shutdown is that it actually decreased my reading. I don’t know if it affected you in the same way, or if it had the opposite effect, but I found that my regular reading habits weren’t working as well as they normally do, but I was still able to complete 30 books.

What makes for a good book for me may be different than you, but for me, they’re books that I find myself thinking about for a while afterwards, they usually have stretched or challenged me in new ways and it’s usually one I find myself engrossed in as I’m reading it. And so, with that, I hope that these stand outs for me from this past year can be helpful for you as you consider ways to be renewing your mind over this next year.

Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

I picked this up after seeing Beth Moore tweet that it was the one book she read in 2020 that she wishes everyone would read in 2021, which was enough of an endorsement for me to pick it up and read it in a couple of days leading into Christmas. For the past 15 years, I have found myself teaching and preaching against Christian Nationalism in various forums, seeing it as a significant problem in the church, which we has especially shown itself to be true over the past year. Du Mez does a great job bringing together a cohesive narrative to make sense of the rise particularly of White Christian Nationalism, alongside the movement of patriarchy and toxic masculinity in the church as well as the effects it’s had on the larger American culture and politics.

If you have been baffled by things like the overwhelming percentage of white evangelicals that would not only vote for Trump, but would overwhelmingly support his behavior, the support for white supremacists, the attitudes towards refugees and immigrants, and abuse coverups in the church…and you want to try and make sense of how we got here – I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you’ve spent any time reading on the history of evangelicalism, the integration of anti-communist sentiments during the Cold-War, purity culture, and racial injustice in the church, this won’t be entirely new content to you, but the way that Du Mez puts it together will help to give context to how we got to where we are today.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

I don’t read a ton of fiction, but when I find one that grabs me, it sucks me in like a good binge on Netflix. I found myself constantly looking for opportunities when I could sneak in a few more minutes of reading this book, which won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Whitehead tells the story of a young Black man who ends up in juvenile prison in Florida during the Jim Crow era, which is based around a real reform school and the stories that have surfaced from that school.

This book caused me to consider racial inequities, systemic injustice as well as criminal reform, without being direct and utilizing stories that were based in reality. I usually don’t like books that win awards, they often feel to me like they are self-indulgent writing that doesn’t connect with me personally. But this one was very different. It’s a great way to bring yourself into a world that may have been outside of your experiences.

Shining Like the Sun by Steve Wiens

This book helped to bring together two themes that I’ve been working through in my own life – Contemplative Christianity along with spiritual practices that are a part of the ordinary rhythms of life. Wiens does that in the context of utilizing practices as a way of reconstructing your faith. I find myself in conversations on a regular basis with people who are going through some sort of deconstruction of faith. My experience is that it’s often a intellectual and emotional journey meshed together, but it ends up having implications in so many areas of our lives, including rhythms and practices that had been ingrained into our lives. Wiens draws from the great contemplative tradition to help bring healthy integration to a journey of a renewed faith.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Noah’s story of growing up in apartheid South Africa, where he was literally born a crime as the child of a White father and a Black mother. Sometimes it’s difficult to be confronted by the situations that are a part of our own experiences and lives, and it’s helpful to engage in a situation that doesn’t directly implicate us in order to be able to see a bit more clearly. As the host of the Daily Show, Noah does a great job at combining humor and thoughtfulness in order to expose the reality of life in apartheid South Africa in order to confront the reality of racial injustice that’s a part of the system that you and I exist in. I listened to this as an audio book, and was so glad that I did, enjoying both Noah’s accent, his pronunciation of different South African dialects, and the way he would recount his mother’s voice.

Here is Real Magic by Nate Staniforth

I was shocked at how much I liked this book. In fact, I find myself thinking about it again every once in a while and will likely reread it this year. It’s Magician Nate Staniforth’s story of recapturing wonder after becoming burned out by the profession that once captured his imagination. One friend after reading it described it as the male version of Eat, Pray, Love, which is probably a good description. It’s one of those books that I don’t know that I left it with any specific thing that I would do or learn from it, but found myself inspired as I read it and left with a renewed sense to pursue wonder.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

I found myself regularly sharing something I had learned from this book during dinners with the family. So much so, that it began to become a family joke that I began all my sentences with, “I’m reading a book about the bombing of London during World War 2…” I read this during the early days of the COVID stay at home order and it gave me a very small sense of solidarity with what was happening in London during the bombing of the city and it gave me a needed perspective at that time that we would be able to make it through. Churchill is a fascinating leader through that time and you’re able to get a bit of a biography on him, while not being specifically a biography on him. I often say that if I had to read history books that had been written like this during high school, I would have enjoyed history a lot more.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

It’s crazy to me how controversial this book has been, and particularly by people who have never read it, but have read a sentence or two out of context. A friend who has been helpful to me over the years on been understanding racial injustice, being confronted by my complicity and has offered helpful challenges of normalized narratives in my life – said that this is the one book he was asking all of his White friends to read – so just from that, it seemed important for me to engage it. While I read several books on this topic this past year, I think this is the one that gave some language and framework to be able to appropriately hear and receive the others that I read.

There’s been a lot written and said about this book over this past year, so I won’t offer more on it, other than to say – it’s important for us to be confronted with ways of thinking that have become normalized, to think about the way we bring who we are into different spaces and how we make room for others who’s experiences are not our own. Growing up as an upper-middle class white male, it’s easy for me to ignore those things, but a part of loving my neighbor and following the example of Jesus who “did not hold onto his advantage” is to be curious and open to being challenged in new and different ways. I’d encourage you to read DiAngelo’s book (or any of the multitude of others that address racial injustice and our complicity in it) with an open, non-defensive posture to see what you need to learn and be challenged by.

Everything is Spiritual by Rob Bell

This is as close to a memoir as we might get from Bell. I found so much resonance with Bell’s own journey, some of what he went through and endured from others (on a much smaller scale) and the way he processed all of that has been helpful for me through the past several years in my own journeys. If you aren’t a fan of Bell’s writing, with fragmented sentences and unique paragraph formatting, you probably won’t like this book, as it’s one long run on chapter. But I found it to be engrossing and a quick read. I’ll be honest though – his whole section on sperm and sex seemed out of place in the book and felt like something he just really wanted to find a way to fit in.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

I fully expect to get teased relentlessly for putting McConaughey’s book on this list, but when a friend who I highly respect told me in almost hushed tones that he read it in one sitting, I bought it while we were still on the phone.

First, he’s actually a really good writer. Second, he’s thoughtfully approached the way he engages life. Third, it’ll inspire you to want to recapture adventure. I didn’t read it as quickly as my friend though…it took me two sittings.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I love Steinbeck, and realized that I had never read this classic of his. I’m not sure I’ve ever put two fiction books on my end of the year book list, but both of the fiction books I have on this list moved me beyond fiction in ways most fiction books don’t for me. It asks questions of providence, human freedom, and gets a little preachy without feeling preachy. There’s a reason this is a classic


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On Trauma, Disciplines and Getting Started

I hadn’t ridden my road bike in 22 months. After my friend Paul had been hit and killed on his bike, while riding a route that he and I used to ride together, I hadn’t been able to get on mine. A sort of mental block developed that wasn’t necessarily rational, but I couldn’t seem to get over.⁣

Then, as a part of some training with @thehumanbodylab, I was supposed to do a run, but shin splints required me to rest. He suggested I ride instead, and without thinking much about it, I got my bike out.⁣

A simple, pragmatic need that I didn’t think much about got me over that initial hump to start riding.⁣

Recently I’ve been working on a writing project where I’ve gotten stuck. A friend and mentor who’s written and published a lot of books offered to spend some time helping me think it through better. At one point when I was asking him some practical questions about how to organize it, he said, “I don’t know Mike, I think you have to start writing it to figure it out”⁣

For all kinds of reasons, we get in our own way. We put off the phone call we need to make. We never sign up for that class that was interesting. We talk ourselves out of asking them on a date. We don’t start the project, train for the race, write the article…⁣

And maybe sometimes the best thing we can do is just start. It may not be the best or the final, but the start gets you going. ⁣

A friend and I have been doing an experiment of practicing a different spiritual discipline together for a month at a time. Disciplines are essentially any thing that we do that opens us up for the Spirit of God to move us towards more and more of who were designed and created to be. Too often we have a vision or a desire to move towards being the kind of person Jesus opens up for us – loving our enemies, living without worry, trusting in the abundance of a good God, living self aware and non judgmentally…But we’ve never moved beyond singing about it or being inspired by a sermon or a podcast or a book. And at some point, we have to start. We experiment and we try and we figure out what disciplines will be most helpful. But it only happens when we start. ⁣

I wonder, what is it that you just need to start?

Preaching During the Coronavirus Crisis

Pastor friends, you have a unique role right now. You are leading an organization that is having to be quickly adaptive. Making decisions like deciding on a Thursday or Friday to livestream your worship services for the first time on Sunday. You’re shepherding people, having to figure out how to meet the needs of your church and how to serve your community through all of this. You’re pastoring people, providing wisdom and insight as to how to engage in the reality of our lives right now. And you’re doing so much more. I have so much respect for you as you lead through this right now.

I’m in this unique position having pastored and led in a local church for over 20 years, and now engaging with several different churches, helping serve them in different ways, while also still teaching ministry students how to preach. So, yesterday as the majority of churches shifted to provide online worship services, I had this unique perspective as someone who just a few months ago would have been leading that, to now being someone who was engaging it.

I took the opportunity yesterday to get to “visit” several different churches, and honestly, I enjoyed the experience way more than I expected to. Each church was unique in the way they adapted their worship services for this, some having had more time to think about how they wanted to present an online worship service than others.

There’s a lot that you’re having to figure out very quickly. After participating in several church’s online worship services, as someone who teaches preaching, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on preaching during the coronavirus crisis.

1. Your Non-Verbal Communication is Amplified

Whenever you communicate, what you are saying nonverbally is always significant, but when I’m watching you on a large screen in my home, and it’s solely focused on you, your nonverbal communication gets amplified 10x.

I will often teach my students that what they are doing nonverbally needs to match the message that they want to communicate verbally. If you are teaching on ideas such as experiencing peace and non-anxiousness during this time, and yet you communicate it in a way that feels rushed or even over-hyped, you communicate anxiousness.

If you’re not used to preaching without an audience, this is difficult, because you’re used to reading and playing off of your audience’s reactions. Your natural reaction is going to be to rush, to not allow for appropriate pauses, because it feels awkward to. You need to slow down more than you probably feel comfortable with, you should intentionally plan out where to allow for pauses in order to let your words hit, and remember that there are so many voices that are communicating anxiety, let the way that you preach and communicate through this be one that helps calm people rather than creating more anxiety.

(Also, look into the camera when you’re speaking. It’s super awkward, but your eye contact will help us engage)

2. Being More Specific and Concrete is Always Better Than More General and Abstract

I often tell my students that something is trite or cliche not because it’s not true, but because it’s communicated without specificity or concreteness. It becomes an easy go to phrase that leaves your audience without actually knowing what it means or how it actually is lived out, but it gets an easy Amen because it’s generically true. Statements that are trite and cliche are born out of abstract generality.

When you use phrases like, “choose faith not fear” or “just trust that God is in control” they can easily come off as trite and cliche. They may be true statements, but especially when people have very real reasons to be afraid, when people have had real experiences that are causing real anxiety about the present and future, those sort of statements can feel calloused, unengaged with reality and not very helpful.

Instead, try explaining to people what you hope for them without using a pithy phrase. How would you explain it to me if I asked, “but what does that mean for me? How do I actually do that? What does that look like in the reality of my life after I leave this livestream and have to deal with losing my job, being isolated and alone, showing up at the grocery store and not being able to buy any of the staple ingredients I need for my family to eat this week” When you can give me concrete examples, when you can use specific language, it lessens your need for the pithy phrase, because that specificity has made it memorable and doable.

3. Recognize Your Audience is Engaged and Fairly Informed

Unless you have a congregation that is largely not engaged online, your audience is already very informed. Most of the people I’m talking to have all of the same information that I do, and are getting it as quickly as I am. For quite a while the pastor has been moving away from being the informed expert who people come to in order to be told what they’re supposed to do and know and something like this heightens that reality even more. Instead, you are a fellow journey-person, who is on the path with us, helping to point us in the right direction by helping us to make sense of all of the information and helping us to appropriately process it.

This changes your basic posture of your message and the specific kinds of things you’ll communicate. I don’t need you to tell me not to hoard at the grocery store, I’ve already had 4,721 people on Facebook tell me the exact same thing and if I’m not listening to them, then I’m not listening to you (not me personally…but you get it). Instead, I want you to teach me how to pray through this, I want you to encourage me with ways to love my neighbor while also maintaining social distancing, I want you to help me process the news and to remind me of the ways that Christians have always engaged in moments like this and to help me imagine what that might look like in this time and this place.

I’m often reminded of something I once read that NT Wright wrote about Paul. He said something to this effect, “Paul wasn’t telling people what to think, he was teaching them how to think. Now that the Messiah had come, he was teaching them to think messianically about the world and the way they lived in it.” I wonder if the same might be true for us as we are preaching today. Perhaps our role in preaching during this isn’t telling people what to think as much as it is helping them learn how to think as a people who are being formed in Christ in this specific and unique moment.

Pastors, you’ve got this. You are leading well through this. No one is expecting you to do this perfectly. In fact, no one needs you to do it perfectly. But what we do need you to do is to be attentive to the voice of God in this moment and then to communicate in a way in order to best help me to receive what you have to communicate.

Mike’s Notes: November 2019

I started a monthly newsletter that launched yesterday. It’s simply called, Mike’s Notes and is meant to provide monthly notes with thoughtful resources for ordinary people.

The initial one is below. If you want to subscribe to get it emailed to you monthly, you can use the subscription box in the sidebar or follow this link (and make sure to check your junk mail and add to your contact list to ensure you’re getting it)

Thanks for being among the first to check out my monthly newsletter. I appreciate you subscribing. Contained each month are the kinds of things people tend to ask me about most often – resources – books I’m reading, things that are inspiring me or are interesting to me, stuff that’s making me think. I’m also including a regular summary of a thoughtful book. I’ve found that although I’d often recommend books to people, they didn’t always have the time to read them or they weren’t familiar with reading theological works, and so would give up. So, I wanted to be able to  help you with that, giving you a brief-ish summary of a book I’d love for you to read. 

I hope this is helpful for you.

Grace and Peace,


”What must be emphasized in all of this is the difference between trusting Christ, the real person Jesus, with all that naturally involves, versus trusting some arrangement for sin-remission set up through him – trusting only his role as guilt remover.” 

— Dallas Willard

Each month, I’ll provide you with a book summary of a book that I’ve found thoughtful that maybe you haven’t or won’t end up reading. Not a review, not an academic summary of the book, but rather the things that I would point out to you if we were sitting with coffee and I was sharing with you about this book. 

The Divine Conspiracy

I have often told people that outside of the Scriptures the most influential book on my life is The Divine Conspiracy. At the time that I first read it around 15 years ago, it challenged some theological categories that needed challenging, it helped me to think more robustly about the message that Jesus brings and it sent me on a journey down countless rabbit trails that have affected just about every nook and cranny of my faith. While this book is now old enough that it could walk into a bar and buy a drink, and as a result many of Willard’s ideas and teachings have become more commonplace in the church, I think it will go down as a Christian classic that people will read for years to come. 

I remember the way I felt both taken aback while also incredibly intrigued when I first read Willard challenging the way that we have typically talked about the gospel, as he challenged me to consider what Jesus’ own gospel was. 

“Jesus’ own gospel of the kingdom was not that the kingdom was about to come, or had recently come, into existence. If we attend to what he actually said, it becomes clear that his gospel concerned only the new accessibility of the kingdom to humanity through himself…The reality fo God’s rule, and all of the instrumentalities it involves, is present in action and available with and through the person of Jesus. That is Jesus’ gospel…New Testament passages make plain that this kingdom is not something to be ‘accepted’ now and enjoyed later, but something to be entered now.”

His gospel was not, “believe in me, so that I can be your ticket to heaven after you die, but was rather, “through Jesus the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:14-15) and it is something that can be experienced and entered into now. 

Willard challenges the way that we have often understood the gospel by showing the inadequacies of what he calls “Gospels of Sin Management”. He asks why the gospel isn’t actually changing people and the way we live and suggests that we have made the gospel about a theory of atonement (the work of Christ on the cross) that enables a salvation that is cut off from regular life (it is something we believe in, in order to secure our place in the afterlife). Willard suggests,

”But we get a totally different picture of salvation, faith, and forgiveness if we regard having life from the kingdom of the heavens (which Willard understands interchangably with kingdom of God as well as eternal life in John) now – the eternal kind of life – as the target.”

I had grown up being taught and hearing preachers and Sunday School teachers tell me that at it’s essence what Jesus did was provide an arrangement to get me a ticket into heaven after I died. Willard sets up a contrast with that way of understanding the mission and message of Jesus and its implications for us. ”What must be emphasized in all of this is the difference between trusting Christ, the real person Jesus, with all that naturally involves, versus trusting some arrangement for sin-remission set up through him – trusting only his role as guilt remover.” In fact, as Willard points out, the only time that eternal life is ever defined in the Scriptures is found in John 17:3, “This is eternal life that they may know you, the only real God, and Jesus the anointed, whom you have sent.” Eternal life, according to Jesus is not a destination or a post-death experience, but rather a real, vibrant, trusting relationship. 

In all of this, Willard is arguing that Jesus is not simply something that we have sort of esoteric beliefs about in order to arrange our afterlife condition, but rather we should be learning to live from him. We trust that he actually knows the best way to live and we apprentice (Willard’s preferred translation for ‘disciple’ in the New Testament) ourselves to him. It is not simply allowing Jesus to be a good moral teacher who we get advice from, but rather, because of the present availability of the kingdom, we can be empowered by him to live the kind of life that he lived. As Willard says in another of his books, “Christlikeness is possible”. The experience of the kingdom coming near in the person of Jesus enables us to become more like him, becoming more of who we were designed and created to be. 

”It is not possible to trust Jesus, or anyone else, in matters where we do not believe him to be competent…’Jesus is Lord’ can mean little in practice for anyone who has to hesitate before saying, ‘Jesus is smart.’ 

Because of that, Willard says that we should be willing to pay attention to the way that Jesus answers what Willard says are the two major questions that humanity always faces, which significant thinkers have always answered – what is the good life and who is a good person? 

Willard turns his attention then to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), the longest recorded continuous teaching of Jesus. He sees this sermon as a teaching that answers both of those questions based on the present availability of the kingdom of God. While it would be too much to try and summarize all of Willard’s teachings about how we understand the Sermon on the Mount, it is worth highlighting a few sections that challenged my understanding at the time, and to keep in mind that he understands the entire sermon to be building on the idea of the present availability of God’s kingdom, while answering the questions of “what is the good life and who is the good person?”

At the beginning of Matthew 5, Jesus begins his sermon with what has traditionally been called the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the…” The way I had often understood these were as 8 qualities that I needed to pursue in order to experience God’s blessing in my life. I needed to become poor in spirit, or meek or a peacemaker. In fact, oftentimes I heard preachers or teachers doing all kinds of work to try and show how it was desirable to be poor in spirit or how meekness doesn’t actually mean meekness. I sat through teaching that these were 8 steps towards a better kind of life. Willard shows how this doesn’t make sense. One way he shows that is by offering Luke’s version of the Beatitudes which says things like, “Blessed are the poor” (not poor in spirit), or “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst” (not hunger and thirst for righteousness). I have never heard anyone take Luke’s version and say that in order to experience God’s blessing you must become poor. Or that as a part of 8 steps towards a better life, you needed to be regularly hungry and thirsty. As I began to agree with Willard’s interpretation of the Beatitudes and saw how pervasive and even harmful the other way of understanding it could be, I started calling this way of understanding them, “bastardizing the beatitudes” 😉 (which I feel pretty confident Willard would never say)

”The Beatitudes , in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God r good for human beings…They are explanations and illustrations, drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus…The Beatitudes simply cannot be ‘good news’ if they are understood as a set of ‘how-tos’ for achieving blessedness. They would then only amount to a new legalism.”

For Willard, the Beatitudes are Jesus looking out into a crowd of people who don’t fit in, who have been told they don’t belong and are seen as less than in the current religious climate and declaring them as blessed because the kingdom has come near to them in the person of Jesus. It’s a flipping upside down of our expectations and the religious community’s expectations of who is blessed in God’s kingdom. 

That is how Willard understands the beginning framework of Jesus’ sermon, and then when we move to the end, Jesus uses several illustrations that I had also often misunderstood according to Willard. Jesus says to “enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). There is nothing in the context of Jesus’ sermon to suggest that this is about life after death salvation, as I had often been taught – saying that only some would be “saved”. Nor is it about believing the right things in the right kinds of ways. But, if we read Jesus’ sermon as a sermon as Willard suggests, then we understand it differently. 

”The narrow gate is not, as so often assumed, doctrinal correctness. The narrow gate is obedience – and the confidence in Jesus necessary to it…The broad gate, by contrast, is simply doing whatever I want to do…All this is the same as saying that, in actually doing what Jesus knows to be best for us, we build a life that is absolutely indestructible…”

The narrow gate that only a few will find is to live life in the way that Jesus has has shown us throughout his sermon. It’s to recognize the centrality of the kind of life that’s unpacked throughout Matthew 5-7 and to pursue that kind of life as an experience of the present availability of the kingdom. This, Jesus is saying, is the good life. And it’s a life that in my own experience I am often missing, and in my experience of the American church is sorely lacking. But, it is the kind of life that is found when we truly apprentice ourselves to Jesus. 

The pathway towards an apprenticeship with Jesus is as Willard suggests in many of his writings, is training ourselves through what are commonly called spiritual disciplines. Willard makes a concerted effort to make sure we understand that these disciplines or practices are never the point. The goal is not to read your Bible, or fast or experience silence or solitude. Those are simply the means by which we are being trained in order to develop a Christlikeness as is shown in the Sermon on the Mount. We are training ourselves “to remove our automatic responses against the kingdom of God, to free the apprentices of domination, or ‘enslavement’, to their old habitual patterns of through, feeling and action…The training that leads to doing what we hear from Jesus must therefore involve, first, the purposeful disruption of our ‘automatic’ thoughts, feelings, and actions by doing different things with our body.”

While he has written more extensively on spiritual disciplines in other places, he does spend a brief portion of this book encouraging their use as the means by which we are being trained as apprentices of Jesus. He reminds us that ”A discipline is any activity within our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.” One of the disciplines he spends a bit of time advocating for is developing rhythms of silence and solitude. 

”Now it is solitude and silence that allow us to escape the patterns of epidermal responses, with their consequences. They provide space to come to terms with these responses and to replace them, with God’s help, by different immediate responses that are suitable to the kingdom environment – and, indeed, to the kind of life everyone in saner moments recognizes to be good…The cure for too-much-to-do is solitude and silence, for there you find you are safely more than what you do. Wand the cure of loneliness is solitude and silence, for there you discover in how many ways you are never alone.”

Willard ends his book by reminding us that Jesus insisted upon the present availability of the kingdom of the heavens, but also reminding us that there is a future aspect to that kingdom where God is reconciling all things. In borrowing from Saint Augustine, Willard uses the word, peace to describe this experience. ”It is…peace as wholeness, as fullness of function, as the restful but unending creativity involved in a cosmos wide, cooperative pursuit of a created order that continuously approaches but never reaches the limitless goodness and greatness of the triune personality of God, its source.”

Stuff That I’m Into Right Now

1. Açaí Bowls
A while ago, while trying to help me be intentionally pursuing more experiences of joy in my life, my Spiritual Director asked me, “is there any food that when you eat it, it brings you joy?” I had never thought about that question before, but the first thing that immediately came to mind was Açaí Bowls. There’s something refreshing and satisfying about them. For my Long Beach area friends, I’m a big fan of Simply O Juice Bar in Los Al. 

2. Ti Arto Pen and Baron Fig Confidant Dot Grid
For me, I have learned that there is something about having a good pen and a good piece of paper to do some writing on. Sometimes it’s brainstorming an idea and sometimes it’s as simple as a todo list. Either way, there is something satisfying about the tactile nature of a good pen with the right ink on the right kind of paper. The Ti Arto is a bit expensive, but, I love having one pen that feels good every time I use it. I have been using the Baron Fig Confidant Dot Grid for several years now as my go to notebook. The paper feels good, it lays flat when I break it in and has a nice look. I feel like I should be in a fancy outdoor cafe in Europe writing a great novel every time I use them

3. Scott Erickson Say Yes Tour
I went to this tour several months ago when it was in SoCal, and I find myself constantly thinking about it. I don’t know exactly how to describe it other than to say that it is part talk, part multi-media, part voluntary participation…all done in a way that engages you and moves you. I can’t recommend going highly enough, especially for those who have some kind of desire or idea for something more that you want to be doing, and also for those who are communicators to get a glimpse of a whole different way of communicating that we should be paying attention to. I genuinely found myself at times moving from laughing to crying.

And SoCal friends, I recently was able to work with Scott to bring his show to Long Beach on December 14. Get your tickets here

4. Starbucks Medicine Ball
I just got turned onto this secret menu item a month ago, and my family already makes fun of me for how often I order it. It’s essentially steamed lemonade, two kinds of tea and honey. It’s great when you’re starting to feel a sickness coming on, or have a scratchy throat from public speaking. In addition to being helpful, I was shocked at how good it actually tastes. Give it a try when you’re feeling a bit under the weather. 

5. Patheos Blog: Hey, John MacArthur. You have a culture. It’s called white (Christian) patriarchy.
In the wake of John MacArthur saying that Beth Moore needs to “go home” and all that statement entails, there have been a lot of people offering thoughtful and impassioned defenses of women in ministry, of supporting and advocating for the significance of women’s voices in the church and the problems associated with systemically oppressing those voices. Those are all important things that need to be said. This article by Kristin Du Mez addresses those things with a slightly different narrative, focusing on a female Bible translator named Kate Bushnell. I’ve appreciated most of the things that I have read in response to this event, but this article created a particular interest because of what this Bible translator experienced. I have learned over the years to try and read articles like this with my defenses down in order to hear and receive an experience that is different from my own. 

What I’m Reading

Here’s some of the books that I’m currently in the midst of or have just recently finished that you may find interesting…

The God Who Trusts by Curtis Holtzen

Dr. Holtzen is a Philosophical Theologian who I got to know originally when I took a class with him at HIU and have recently enjoyed knowing him as a colleague. He offers an argument that in order to love, God actually needs to have faith, and that he has faith in you and I. If God is love, and if love always hopes (as 1 Cor 13 says), then it’s interesting to think about what it means for God to hope, and what that means for his character and our interaction with him. 

Lost Connections by Johann Hari

I picked this up after listening to the Goop Podcast episode with him on it. Hari as a journalist is trying to understand what really causes depression and anxiety and what we can do about it. He does a good job of deconstructing some of the common assumptions and cultural myths that many of us have bought into.

The Pioneers by David McCullough

I often say that if I had been reading books like McCullough’s when I was in school, I may have actually really enjoyed history class. This is his latest work telling the story of the settling of the Northwest Territory, particularly through the lens of one city in Ohio on the Ohio river and a handful of people involved in that city in various ways. 

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

I rarely listen to audiobooks, but had enough people tell me that was the best way to engage this book, that’s exactly how I “read” this book. Each chapter is like a well produced podcast of the chapter. Gladwell is always great, and this may be my favorite book of his. In the midst of a contentions time in our country, he writes about how we make sense of interacting with and understanding people we don’t know and strangers. Like everything he does, it’s interesting, drawing on several different data sets to make connections you may have not considered before.

That All Shall Be Saved by David Bentley Hart

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox Scholar who is unpacking and offering a defense for his view of Christian Universalism or what some call Universal Reconciliation. This is one of the three major accepted Christian views of Hell and Hart offers a impassioned defense both biblically and philosophically for why he thinks this is the best way to understand the afterlife and God’s relation with all of humanity. While a lot of people won’t agree with Hart on this book, I think this will become one that many will read and wrestle with and will become one of the essential readings on trying to understand various points of view on Hell. Be warned, however, if you do read it, that Hart comes off arrogant in his own confidence. It can be a turn off to some. For me, it made me laugh out loud quite a bit.

Things I’m Watching and Listening To

Brene Brown: The Call to Courage on Netflix 

I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a Brene Brown fan. Her book, Daring Greatly was significant for me in giving some language and direction for what it looks like to pursue what she calls whole-hearted living. Her Netflix special came at a good time for me, entering into a new season that requires new kinds of vulnerability (like starting this newsletter). Watch this for a good reminder on not letting yourself be defined by scarcity and uncertainty. 

Preach Podcast: The Rise, Fall, and Return of VeggieTales

While I knew a lot of the details of the rise and fall of VeggieTales from Phil Vischer’s autobiography, Me Myself and Bob, I found this 2 part podcast to be interesting and well done. If you grew up on VeggieTales, used to watch them in your college dorm, or show them to your kids and wondered what happened, this will give you some insight into their story as well as some thoughts to consider on what happens when you start to make God your excuse to pursue bigger and more all with a covering of spiritual language. 

Goop Podcast: Why We’re the Loneliest Society

I’ve never listened to this podcast before, but saw this particular episode recommended by someone on one of the social medias, and decided to give it a listen. I’m so glad I did. Johann Hari deconstructs the way that many of us have understood and treating anxiety and depression, and offers better solutions. After a few friends in the psychology field told me that what he was saying isn’t just some pop-psychology but is consistent with what is talked about in their field, I immediately bought his book, “Lost Connections”

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A Personal Update

This morning I let Parkcrest know that Allison and I have decided that I will be stepping down from my role at Parkcrest and August 4th will be my last day as Lead Pastor at the church.

Over the years, it has become increasingly apparent to both Allison and I that I’m unable to maintain a healthy soul while serving in the role of Lead Pastor at Parkcrest. So, we had to come to a realization that not only is it not healthy for me to be in this position for the long term, it’s not healthy for the church either.

There’s no moral failing or secret story. This is the simple story.

I share a bit more in this video about what’s next for me as well as some of the next steps for the church. I’d appreciate you taking a few minutes to watch it.

It’s been a privilege and honor to serve at Parkcrest for 19 years, and 11 of those years as the Lead Pastor.

I have a lot of hope and excitement for the next season of Parkcrest and I hope that you’ll join with me in praying for this next season. If you’re a part of Parkcrest, I look forward to seeing you over the next several weeks as I wrap up my time as Lead Pastor and as we anticipate great things ahead together.

For future connection, the best way to get ahold of me will be at this email address –

Grace and Peace to you friends

On Jerry Jr, Trump and Widespread Evangelical Support

In 2016 I published a short book about the collision of the Kingdom of God and politics. It was taken from a series of sermons that I gave in 2012 before that election, which feels like a different world from the political world we are in now. It was largely written in response to the errors that I had seen in the Religious Right (and in the Religious Left, but much more so in my own personal experiences with the Religious Right) in trying to utilize a political system as the means to achieve kingdom ends. I still believe that is the wrong way to pursue the Kingdom of God, but as with anything, the current cultural moment raises new issues and asks new questions that need to be addressed.

In addressing politics and faith over the years, one thing I have discovered is that when people are reading or listening to me, they have desire for me to equitably attack “both sides” whenever we are discussing something. In these kinds of conversations people will often say something like, “why aren’t you attacking the Democrats (or Republicans) more?”. My concern and calling is not to critique the politics of either Republicans or Democrats or really any political party, but rather to call the church to be the people of God in this present moment. In the places where it seems to me that we are missing that, I will speak up. I am not concerned with trying to have an equal balance of critiquing the donkey or the elephant, but rather continuing to call people to the way of the Lamb.

On January 1, the Washington Post ran an interview with Jerry Falwell Jr that exposed some of the destructive thinking that has become far too prevalent in the church today and it needs to be addressed. I am not someone who feels the need to comment on everything someone says in the name of the church or in every current event, otherwise I would simply spend all of my time responding because the opportunities are endless. However, when something seems to me to be pervasively widespread, continual and destructive to my understanding of who the church is called to be, it merits some kind of response.

Falwell, as the president of the country’s largest Christian University, has been a supporter of President Trump from early on and apparently reconciles the discrepancies of his faith with some of Trump’s behavior and policies that are contrary to that with a description of two different kingdoms – an earthly kingdom and a heavenly kingdom. He describes essentially separating each of those kingdoms and engaging in each of them in different ways. While, I would agree with him that they are separate kingdoms that function in very different ways, I do not believe that the New Testament, nor the way of Jesus in general calls us to treat those as separate ways of engaging the world around us. Nor are they coequal ways of engaging different spheres of our lives. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus expected his followers to operate out of and being agents who are a part of bringing the reality of God’s kingdom to the experience of our lives here and now. For the follower of Jesus, God’s kingdom is not meant to be some kind of spiritual experience that has no bearing on the reality of our lives, but instead is actually meant to be the driving force that affects all of how we live, the choices we make, the way we treat other people, what we value. Jesus would say it this way at one point, “seek first the Kingdom of God and it’s righteousness…”

There is indeed an earthly kingdom. A way in which the world operates and the values it ascribes to. It is also a driving force that affects all of how we live, the choices we make, and the way we treat other people. It is not a value system that the people of Jesus are meant to separate out as another realm where we operate differently. Instead, the people of God are meant to be bringing the way of God’s kingdom into those spaces. At times, it even means operating subversively against the way in which the earthly kingdom operates. A people who operate in God’s kingdom are not just concerned with the ends that are achieved, but also the means by which we get there.

I didn’t realize how pervasive this dualistic view of how we interact with the world actually was until I read this interview with Falwell. It helps to make sense of so many other things that seem to have gotten out of place for those of us who claim to follow Jesus in recent years. For instance, when white evangelical Christians are the group most likely to be against accepting refugees, more than any other group identified in the polling, that runs against the way the church has functioned in caring for refugees and the calling of the Kingdom of God. Or when the opinion of evangelicals regarding immigrants is more shaped by President Trump and political narratives than by evangelical leaders or by the Scriptures. The ability to separate out our faith from our worldview is disconcerting at best.

As Falwell suggests, the United States may not have an obligation to love our neighbors or care for the poor (we can argue that on another day), but followers of Jesus do. For followers of Jesus to desire and pursue things that are contrary to that, is explicitly contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Just because politics are not the means by which we pursue kingdom ends, does not mean that we actively utilize politics in ways that are directly contrary to kingdom ends. I don’t know of any Christians who think in this way who would advocate for policies that would increase abortions or ones that would strip the church of it’s non-profit status and protections, or to disallow Christian colleges from gaining the advantage of federally supplemented loans. While I would argue it’s not the best use of our calling as a church to try and utilize political means to pursue those things, it is not something we actively work against.

When I released “In God We Trust,” one of my concerns was that the broader church that I found myself a part of was too tied into and overly linked with a political party. Some seem to have now gone a step farther, in becoming even more linked with a particular person. Falwell was asked if there was anything that Trump could do that would endanger support from himself or other evangelical leaders. His answer was simply “no.” As a friend of mine put it, “Regardless of who it is, this is what’s called a cult.” I am not sure I understand it or fully get where this blanket support is coming from, but the unquestioning evangelical support of President Trump has me perplexed. In fact, white evangelicals are the only major religious group to continue to have a favorable opinion of President Trump.

The same evangelical leaders who spoke out against Bill Clinton during the Lewinskly scandal saying that his character matters because character is significant in leadership, then defended Trump as a candidate saying things like “his character doesn’t matter because we aren’t electing a pastor”. When things like that happen, you begin to wonder if there are different standards for evangelical leaders depending on whether or not you have an R or a D after your name on the ballot. In fact, one of the most significant swings that has happened in evangelicals’ worldview, is a complete about-face in the way that character matters in leadership. We do not have to hold a President to the same standards as a Pastor of a church to say that character matters in leadership. Nor do we have to change our values in that regard in order to align with specific policy decisions.

There may be policies that Trump supports and advocates that can be within a kingdom framework. I personally was glad to see the prison reform legislation pass and would love to see more work done there. That does not mean, however, that you need to give blanket support to all of his policies. It doesn’t mean that we turn a blind eye to his dishonorable and immoral behavior as President. It does not mean that we adopt shifting worldviews in order to accommodate our politics or our chosen political candidate. We can be nuanced and thoughtfully Christian without offering blanket support of a political party or of a particular person.

Frankly, I don’t understand what has been happening with the blanket support of Trump and his policies amongst white evangelicals. I’m not interested in “would Hillary have been any better?” kinds of debates, nor am I interested in calling Trump the new Hitler. I’m not interested in rehashing the election or telling you who to vote for. I’m simply interested in the church being the church. I’m interested in the people who call themselves followers of Jesus living in the ways of the Kingdom and letting that shape their worldview. I’m not interested in Christians needing to comment on everything that Trump says and does that is contrary to the way of Jesus. But I am interested in not giving blind allegiance and support to him as he does those things. I would find myself offering the same critique if the larger church system that I find myself a part of offered the same kind of widespread, pervasive support of a different candidate, party or policies that seemed to me to be destructive to the church. I am in no way partisan but rather try to find myself on the side of the church and who she is called to be.

I’m reminded and regularly challenged by a word of caution offered by Jesus, when he said, “what good does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet forfeit their soul?” My calling is not to engage in partisan debates, but rather to point the church to where we may be losing our soul.

Top Books 2018

Top Books 2018

This year I decided to try something different with my reading, I did my best to track every book I read with goodreads. And while I don’t think I nailed it perfectly, there are some I would forget to include or others that I would forget to update after I finished reading, it seemed to be a pretty handy way to keep track of and review what I read this past year. I’m sure it’s way more powerful than that, but I’m becoming the old guy who doesn’t always understand how to properly use these new hip gadgets.

This year, I’ve read 43 books so far, which puts me at the top end of my goal to read 25-50 each year.

In case you are looking for some suggestions on books to buy for Christmas presents, I thought I’d offer what I thought were the best books that I read this year.

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler

This was easily, hands down one of the best books I read this year. I met Kate at a writer’s bootcamp a few years ago when she was working through the concept of this book, which made it a joy not only to read but to see it sit on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks. Kate has done her doctoral work in the history of the faith healing movement in America, and while she was doing her research, became incredibly ill, eventually fighting cancer as a young mom. She wrestles with faith, easy answers and is humorous, thoughtful and vulnerable as she does. If we are friends, I have probably already recommended this book to you this year.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

This is another one that I probably recommended to you already as well. Newport is a professor at Georgetown University and has taken to learning to make a science out of developing the skills to focus on significant work, what he calls deep work. He argues that most of us don’t actually engage in that sort of work anymore because of the amount of distraction that we allow in, and he offers larger thoughts about how to do that as well as practical suggestions

Becoming Dallas Willard by Gary Moon

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I have a proclivity towards wanting to learn from Dallas Willard. He was the kind of man that I would want to become and so I find myself more and more drawn to learn not only from his teachings but from his life. This was a great biography by one of Dallas’ disciples that was interesting and insightful. If you’ve been impacted by Willard and his teaching, it’s worth reading.

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

One of the things that I did this year was to intentionally get books from the library that would be different from what I’d normally read. I used their online app and would only get library books available for download on the kindle, which has limited my selection, but it’s also brought books to my attention that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. This was a fascinating biography about Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House on the Prairie series. It was an honest look at the realities of the country, homesteading and the move west during that time, how she turned herself into a successful writer and what her family life was actually like. I found myself often telling other people stories from her life as I read it

Robin by Dave Itzkoff

I’ve long considered Robin Williams to be brilliant, but I honestly didn’t know much about him. This was another great biography that felt both honest and honoring.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Isaac was reading this for school, so Allison and I decided to read it along with him. I had forgotten how good this book is and how much I enjoyed it. If you’ve never read this modern classic or if it’s been a while, it’s a good one to pick up.

Cross Vision by Greg Boyd

Boyd is fascinating in that he lives at the intersection of being a biblical scholar and a local church pastor. The way he processes faith and the Scriptures are always intriguing to me and I often want to learn from him however I can. He had recently finally published his magnum opus work, a two volume treatise on dealing with the violence of God in the Bible, called The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Cross Vision is essentially the abridged version of that much larger, scholarly work. Greg works to make sense of the pictures of a violent God, with Jesus as his starting point of what God must always look like. He has produced an important work, taking seriously the nature of Jesus and the Scriptures. If you’ve ever struggled with making sense of the violence of God in the Scriptures, this would be a great book. It’s Greg being pastoral with his scholarly work, so it’s very readable and does not feel overly scholarly in its tone or content

High Fidelity by Nick Hornsby

I had never read any Hornsby books, and a friend had chastised me for that this year, telling me I needed to give High Fidelity a shot. I not only really enjoyed this one, but I ended up reading 2 more by Hornsby this year after it. I’m not quite sure how to describe Hornsby and his writing, as I don’t read a ton of fiction, but I found myself drawn in by the characters he creates and like I was being casually told a story by an Englishman in a bar.

Politics Sermon Resources for Pastors

Over the past month I’ve had several conversations with Pastors who have never addressed politics from the stage at their church in any way, and are feeling like they need to say something in some kind of way this year. While my book on the subject has been a helpful starting point for many, it was written more as a prophetic challenge to the church in the way that Evangelicals have engaged politics.

Because of the nature of this election, I felt that what our church needed was not that kind of challenge, but instead more of a pastoral approach to help find a way forward in the midst of so much political chaos, so many voices and opinions and way too much noise about it all.

So, this weekend, we launched a 2 week series at Parkcrest called “Keeping Your Head Above Water.: How to Keep From Drowning in the Political Chaos” Because a few people asked me if they could have access to these resources, I thought I’d post them here as well in case it could be useful to you and your church.

Here is a link to files that you may find useful, including the manuscript from my sermon this weekend, the sermon notes we used in church and the graphics that we utilized. Below is the video of the message as well. I realize that there are only 3 Sundays left before the election, so wanted to make what we had available as soon as possible. After I preach this next weekend, I will make that sermon available as well.

Feel free to use what’s helpful, we just ask that you find a way to give appropriate credit for the materials.

How Much Is That Stew Worth? from Parkcrest Church on Vimeo.