Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Review: Growing Young

There are a lot of books out there that tell you how to do great ministry. Many come off as 4 simple steps or if you follow our method, buy our curriculum and make sure all your congregation buys our study guide, it will transform your church. This is not one of those books. This is a book that is backed by research into churches that are reaching youth and young adults in an effective and meaningful way. So much of what the authors found resonated with me and I found myself constantly underlining and marking up the margins.

What gives this book great strength is that the authors have found common elements across the diverse range of churches they studied. What I found very helpful was that the authors early on address a number of common myths about churches that are succeeding in growing young including location, denomination, cool factor, facility, budget and church size. In their research the authors found churches all over the spectrum of all these various areas.

The authors identify six trait of growing young churches which they lay out in what they call the "Growing Young Wheel" where these traits continually grow as you go around the circle. Each factor has chapter that works through it that includes real examples of it playing out in a church, and explanation of their findings and a list of ideas of how your church might be able to grow this quality. 

As this is a research based book that has just been released, the information is current and relevant. If you are in youth or young adult ministry, or simply someone who is a millennial, you will find much of this book resonates with how you and those you minister to are wired. What this book does well is help those older than millennials understand how ministry may need to be reshaped to reach the next generation, backing it up with solid research.

Bottom line, this book needs to be at the top of your reading list for the coming year.

(I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review: 5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Kids & Sex

This is a book about one of those really uncomfortable topics of parenthood. Its the conversation I think every parent dreads to have with their children but it is one that is so vital to have. In "5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Kids & Sex" Anne Marie Miller not only encourages us to have those conversations (its not a one time talk as she points out in the first chapter!) but arms us with information about the realities out there and the tools we need to work with. 

The first chapter, The Earlier the Better, encourages us to begin discussing the issues of sex early on at an age appropriate level. By addressing issue early, she tells us the later conversations become more natural and normalized. The second chapter, Your Child is Not the Exception, holds a message that I think every parent needs to hear. We all want to believe that our child will learn what's best, that they will be the one to steer clear of every pitfall. The realities however are that our kids are picking up messages from everywhere, as chapters 3 (on media) and 4 (on Google is the new Sex-ed) explore. One of the greatest ideas I picked up in her discussion is that we want our kids to be safe but really we need to teach them to be healthy. The truth is we can't keep them safe from every danger in the world but if we teach them to be healthy, they will learn to steer clear of the danger out there and recover when they need to. The final chapter, Sexually Abused Children Rarely Speak Up, it a tough one. It is something that deals with something no one should ever endure but the sad reality is many have been and continue to be abused.

The content of this book is very helpful and is laid out in an easy to read and helpful format. Miller covers a lot of ground but then has "Bottom Line" sections where she summarizes and makes sure you've got the key information. There are also a number sections titled "Having the Conversation" that give you guidence in how to talk about the topic at hand with your kids. Finally, each chapter ends with a section titled "Experts want you to know" which includes information from a variety of experts backing up what she has discussed in that chapter.

Overall, this is a book that I feel will help parents be well equiped for journeying with their children through this topic. In an age where the world is so different from the one we grew up in, in terms of the impact of media and the internet, it is ever more vital we have the tools we need to navigate this with our kids.

(I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own)

Monday, September 5, 2016

Review: Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love Old Testament Style

I just finished reading "Prostitutes and Polygamists" by David Lamb. It is certainly a provocative title and perhaps not the book you want lying on your desk without explanation. Whether you keep it tucked away out of sight or not, it is most certainly worth reading. Though we often gloss over or sanitize some of the more difficult parts of the Old Testament, there are some tough things that it deals with. In this book Lamb addresses the difficult sexual issues we find in the Old Testament including prostitution, polygamy, incest, rape and homosexuality. Lamb addresses all of these issues with a balance of humour and sensitivity.

Lamb begins by acknowledging that we as humans behave badly (a play on words on the title of Lamb's previous book "God Behaving Badly") and that we see all kinds of bad behaviour in both the Bible and the world around us. He then has a chapter looking at God's ideal for sex within marriage, which is all too often as far as we go in the church. What Lamb does is acknowledge that many of us stray from God's ideal but that there is hope because the Bible is full of people that fell short and yet were used by God. 

The issues covered in the chapters that follow are difficult to work through but Lamb deals with them well. An important point that he draws out is that the Bible is highly concerned with the welfare of the marginalized. When we see God's concern for the marginalized and read the Bible in its ancient context we see how radical some of the laws that we find repulsive really were. For example, the Bible specifically prohibits the rape of prisoners of war, further if an Israelite did capture a foreign woman he had to give her time to mourn and if he tired of her, he couldn't sell her, she had to be set free. This was a far greater level of protection and concern than found in other culture at the time, and frankly in parts of our world today.

Another passage Lamb looks at that we struggle with is Deut 22:28-29 where if a man seizes a young woman in the country and "lays with her" he is to pay the bride price to her father and he can never divorce her. Requiring a woman to marry her rapist is an abhorrent thought to us today but when viewed in its ancient context this law is actually pretty radical. First, in this verse the testimony of the woman is taken without a witness, second her rapist is required to marry this now un-marriable woman and third, he can never divorce her giving her more security than other women. In a culture where women were viewed as property, could not provide testimony in court and had no security apart from a man, this is pretty radical. Lamb observes that this and the other laws he looks at, actually provided women a greater level of protection than many find in our culture today. When we look at the trajectory scripture sets towards an ideal, we see that it moves us closer to the goal. (For more on this check out William Webb's "Slaves, Woman & Homosexuals" from IVP)

I think this is a book pastors should definately read. The reality it both the Bible and our culture have a lot to say about sex, though what they have to say is awfully different. God knew we'd fall short of His ideal and He gave us a whole Bible full of examples of others who fell short in all sorts of ways.  We encounter these people every day who have fallen short of God's ideal for sex, either by their own actions or by the violation of others. The Bible shows us that God cares for all people, regardless of how we've fallen, and He can and will redeem us. 

I don't think I'd every preach a sermon series on this book but I believe it can inform the direction we take with some of these more difficult topics as we preach through the Bible. That said, our church once did an exercise where everyone filled out a card with the one issue they wish God could deal with in their lives. As the cards were sorted over half of them were relationship issues. Also the stats are clear, there are people in the pew every week who struggle with what they have done or has been done to them and need to hear what the Bible has to say. I believe that showing people these kinds of issues aren't new and many are addressed in the Bible can provide both hope and a deeper appreciation for scripture.

I think this book can provide a good bridge between the Biblical Theology and Practical Theology sides of pastoral ministry, in the area of relationships, especially broken ones. Another book worth reading in a similar vein is "Flawed Families of the Bible" by Garland & Garland. This is another hidden gem of a book (that I found in a clearance bin of all places) that can help one touch on these very difficult, yet prevalent issues.

(I was not provided this book by the publisher, I bought it with my own money and thus was free say whatever I wished about it. If anyone from Zondervan is reading this feel free to send me review copies at any time)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Review: The Temple and the Tabernacle

I just finished reading "The Temple and the Tabernacle" by J. Daniel Hays and must say this was a excellent read. One might at first glance think a book by such a title deals only with issues of the Old Testament and belongs buried in the stacks of Old Testament Studies but this is not the case with this book. The very first thing that struck me when I opened this book was the colour. The book has many full colour illustrations throughout featuring artist renderings, archaeological finds and photos of scale models. The images are high quality and wonderfully compliment the text.

As for the text itself, the eight chapters are written in very accessible language keeping this book very readable. Though easy to read, it is full of excellent material and thoughtful insights. One thing that Hays does well in this book is begin with a succinct summary and finish with a conclusion that offers how this topic relates to the church today. This "so what" conclusion really helps one reflect on the content of the book and how to read the Old Testament in light of it. I think one of the most important points Hays makes here is showing how through the tabernacle and the iterations of the temple God was seeking to dwell with us but His holiness and our sinfulness required levels of separation. When one looks back on levels of separation that were required between us and the most holy place, it helps us see the incredible gift we have that the Holy Spirit now dwells within us.

One section that found particularly interesting was the chapter on Solomon's temple and the comparison between the construction account in 1 Kings and the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus. His comparison of the two accounts helps show the trajectory the nation of Israel is on through the remainder of the book of Kings and provides a useful background to the events recorded in the remainder of 1&2 Kings.

The chapter dealing with the temple in the New Testament is also quite helpful. Apart from addressing the theological issues around the Temple in light of the reality of Christ, Hays does a great job at providing the background to the New Testament events that occur in and around the temple. His treatment of this background helps bring the events of the Gospels and Acts alive and give the reader a deeper appreciation of those events.

Overall I think this is a wonderful book that will enrich one's understanding of one of the most important structures and institutions found in scripture and give one a deeper appreciation of the God who seeks to dwell with us.

(I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Lamentations - A Festal Garment

One of the books I read this past summer was "Five Festal Garments" by Barry G. Webb. This book is part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series from IVP, which is a series of scholarly works tackling various parts or issues within the Bible. There are several topics addressed in this series that I find most intriguing and have found the volumes I've got to have pushed me deeper and challenged me.

This volume was certainly one that deepened my understanding of the five shortest books of the Old Testament (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther) by exploring how they fit into the whole of scripture. The reason for the title of the book is that each of these five OT books have been associated with one of the five Jewish festivals. It turns out the Jewish people spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out exactly how to handle these books (as seen by the various places some of these books found themselves in terms of location within the OT) and eventually lined them up with their festivals. This is an interesting use of these books that was not adopted in the Christian Liturgical calendar, but one that is certainly worth considering. 

The one I found most interesting was the use of Lamentations in conjunction with the annual festival on the ninth of ab (mid-summer) which is a day to fast and mourn the tragic events of their people's history. Lament is something we in the western world do not do well and I was really struck at how healthy this day of lament could be. The original intent of Lamentations was to lament the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. The festival has developed further to commemorate a number of tragic events in Jewish history. 

Lament as a whole, corporate or personal, is something that has not translated well into our western evangelical context. We seem to be good at lamenting the sins and misdeeds of our nation but not so good at including ourselves in that equation, corporately or individually. Lamentations serves as a corporate lament for corporate sin. The Bible also has plenty of guidance for personal lament, particularly within the Psalms, giving us words to say in those times when we want to express our grief. Life will always include times of sorrow and proper lament can be healthy and the idea of a time of lament worked into the calendar to force us to pause and lament for what needs to be lamented for could be very healthy. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Review: Raising Uncommon Kids

I just finished reading "Raising Uncommon Kids" by Sami Cone this week. In this book Cone lays out 12 biblical truths needed to raise selfless kids. This is raising children who care for others and display the fruits of the spirit was all are to strive for. This book is not a step by step how-to guide to raise kids who obey our every command, rather it is about building the necessary traits in our own lives that we can model for our children. The book was challenging as it calls one to examine one's self and underscores the need to model the behaviors, and the values that underlie them, and live them out. 

What I liked about this book is that the chapters are broken into short sections, which is helpful when the kidlets are running around. Each chapter also has a break out section with a mentor minute with a helpful, practical help from someone who has impacted the author. Each chapter then ends with a "Making it practical" section with about a half dozen practical things you can do as a family to work on building the chapter's theme into your lives. Many of the practical ideas are further fleshed out with additional resources available on the author's website. 

All told, I found this a good read and one that my wife and I will work through together as wee seek to raise children who will be people of character.

(I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Our Daily Bread for Kids

Daily devotions are something that we, like many families, are trying to do and model. It can be hard to find the right one, as there are so many out there, and there is certainly no one size fits all. For where our kids are at right now, we've found the "Our Daily Bread for Kids: 365 Meaningful Moments with God" a great one. There is a short devotional with a verse for each day of the year (including Feb 29 so it really should be 366 Meaningful Moments, but I digress) that we ready each night as part of our bedtime routine. We have found it a great starting place for our daughter who is nearing 5 and our 3 year old likes the pictures. There is a 30 day sampler that we received from our church that pointed us towards this one. If you can get your hands on the sampler I highly recommend trying it or just go ahead and order the full year.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Conversation about Romans 9

This past Sunday we had an inter-generational service at our church and so there was an abbreviated message. To "add some more meat" to the weekly podcast, Todd asked if I'd sit down with him and have a conversation as we worked through the passage in more detail. I've come to appreciate Todd and that he and I talk through some of his sermon stuff when it comes to working out series and the directions they could go. It was a pleasure to have this sit down with him and record it for those who listen to the Burnett podcast weekly.

Listen here

Saturday, April 30, 2016

When you can't see the change that is the problem

I posted my thoughts on an article about the problem of averages. You can read it here.  As I have thought through how the US Air Force approached the problem of the sharp increase in crashes. Even when they had 17 crashes in a single day, they believed it was pilot error because the planes were found to be in good working order. The trouble was, though the planes were functioning, something was fundamentally different. 

As they had transitioned from the age of prop planes to the age of the jet, there was an assumption that because the fundamentals of flight hadn't changed, pilots and the way they flew didn't have to change. The controls were still the same, the principles of lift, drag, airspeed, pitch and yaw still held true. The problem was, a jet simply went so much faster that a pilot had to be able to have an unobstructed view of his instruments and be able to make split second control changes. The high speed of jets also left much less margin for error as any error could quickly compound itself. The bottom line was, something fundamental had changed around them but the air force leadership didn't see it and kept doing things the way they always had.

I couldn't help but think through the parallel to the church today. The fundamentals of the Gospel have not changed. We still preach the same Word, believe in the same God and hold the same hope but something fundamental has changed around us. Our culture has shifted in an incredible way but many churches haven't changed. We are now in a place where the churches does not hold the level of influence and authority it once did. At the same time we have entered and age where information travels faster and wider than at any other time in history. These realities mean that we need to re-evaluate how we do ministry, becoming more agile and flexible in how we do while remaining committed to the fundamentals of our faith. 

Just as the air force found that the principle of "individual fit" in the cockpit drastically reduced their crash numbers and became a guiding principle for equipment throughout the armed forces, so to, I believe our churches should adopt the same approach. As I wrote in my previous post, this can be applied to how we search for leaders and draw up job descriptions. I believe it applies to how we do church as a whole. Every church is different because every church in a different place and context. As time moves on, the people in our churches and the neighbourhoods around them will change as will the broader culture. The question is, will we recognize our new reality or will we continue to do things the way we always have and lay blame on those charged with executing the status-quo?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Review: The Heart of Revelation by J. Scott Duvall

Duvall states in the introduction that there is two common approaches to the last book of the Bible, those who shy away from it because it is just to weird and difficult to understand, and those who dive in and try to work out every detail and interpret every sign. He asserts there is a third way, a way that reads the book in its context so we can see how we are to live in light of its message. Right there in the introduction I was sure I would enjoy this book, and I did.

I used to be solidly in the first camp when it came to Revelation. I had read it and of course affirmed it as part of God's word but I had seen people debate for hours on end about how this sign or that sign was being fulfilled. I remember at some point in learning church history it was pointed out to me how the predominate view of how to interpret Revelation is often tied to whether society was improving or going downhill. Then in seminary I started to see how Revelation was dripping with imagery and that much of it came from the rest of scripture. Once one can see the themes that permeate this rich book you can see it through the eyes of the original audience. Once we start to see this book at it was by the first hearers we can hear its message and how it applies to us today. 

Duvall helps us to just this but walking us through ten significant themes the run through the book. By walking through these themes, we can start to put together a road map to guide us through the book. By walking through the themes of the book, themes that are found throughout the Revelation we can pick up those themes as we read through it. This thematic approach is very helpful to the modern reader. The end of each chapter also includes a list of key passages found in Revelation, a reading plan and a list of study questions for individual or group study. 

This book is well written, and accessible and a valuable tool for understanding this important biblical book. Duvall has also written the Revelation entry in the Teach the Text commentary which I'm sure would be good companion to this book.

(I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

When the ideal you are looking for doesn't exist...

I recently read an article title "When the US air force discovered the flaw of averages" which talked about a key development in aircraft development, namely adjustable cockpits. As the jet age dawned in the 1940's the air force began losing pilots at an alarming rate, once losing 17 in a single day. 17 pilots in a SINGLE DAY. The investigations consistently concluded pilot error because the planes were found to be in perfect working order. Pilots however were convinced that is wasn't their abilities or errors that were resulting in so many crashes, so what could it be.

The article goes on to tell how the air force had standardized cockpit design based on the average measurements of hundreds of men selected to become pilots. These averages determined the dimensions of and distances between the of the various elements of the cockpit. The idea being that each pilot should fit comfortably into a one-size fits all cockpit, especially as those selected to be pilots already were considered to be of average size. The air force in 1950 undertook to update the average measurements by measuring over 4,000 pilots on 140 dimensions to determine the most accurate average they could. As the article describes, it was a young medical researcher who was tasked with measuring pilots who had the inkling the average didn't exist. With the data on hand, he sought to find how many of these 4,000+ were average in only 10 of the dimensions and found exactly ZERO. Even using only 3 dimensions he was only able to get 3.5% of the pilots to fit.

The eventual outcome of these findings was that there was no one size fit all and this led to a revolutionary change to cockpit design. Cockpits had to be adjustable to fit pilots in the 5% - 95% range of the key measurements. Aircraft manufactures protested but fell in line. The new principle of individual fit was eventually applied to equipment throughout the armed forces. This new paradigm caused crash rates to plummet as pilots were no longer wedged into a cockpit that fit no one.

The article is worth a full read but I've been thinking about how these principles apply to the church. We often have an idea of what church should be, of what every church should be. I heard a speaker say once, we like to think the church should be like a balloon that stays a uniform shape as it grows with every side expanding in sync. The reality is, there is no average, there is no set of metrics that apply equally in all cases. Every church is different which means there is no formula for that will fit every dimension of your church. No curriculum, conference or method that worked at a church across the country or across the street will have the same outcome in your context. That is not to say you discard everything that worked elsewhere, it means you need to find the individual fit for your church right now, where it is. This will mean taking what other

I believe too this applies to our pastors. The article also goes into to how the same pursuit of "average" was used to create the "normal" female form. A contest was run to find a woman who fit the criteria created by combining the measurement of over 15,000 women. Just like the pilots, not one woman was found who matched every measurement.

Now, as one who has been on both sides of the search committee table I've seen this played out. Often a church will approach the process with a set of ideals and assumptions based on where they believe they are at and what they need to fulfill the role at hand. They put together a picture of the ideal pastor based on the skills and strengths. This ideal can be based on a number of things. Usually it is based on a collection of criteria seen to work in other churches or even in their own in the past. Consciously or not, often the weaknesses of the last pastor end up being important strengths sought in the next.

Too often search committees (or boards after they've hired) run through multiple candidates because they don't fit all of the numbers they are looking for. I fear too many churches are looking for the one person who like, the air force was, fits an impossible number of criteria that should seem "normal" only to find they don't exist. Instead, I believe we need to be willing to look at adjusting our criteria and let our pastors and ministry leaders be in places they fit, rather than forcing them into an impossible combination of expectations. Perhaps looking at how expectations can be adjusted for better individual fit will result in fewer crashes as we have fewer pastors and leaders wedged into slots that don't fit.

The US Air Force went from a peak of 17 crashes in one day to becoming the more formidable armed force in the world by adjusting their expectations and setting their pilots up for success. Perhaps if we look at individual fit for our ministries and our pastors we can see a revolutionary change as we cut our crash rate and set them up for success.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Feel the Tension - Palm Sunday sermon

I had the opportunity to preach at my home church on Palm Sunday. We are in the midst of a broader series and a sub-series called Feel. This week we wanted to feel the tension of Palm Sunday. To do this I wrote three monologues from the perspective of three different people who were in town that day and delivered the majority of the message in character. I drew on a number of resources to weave together the background and a plausible narrative to provide a backdrop to the Gospel accounts. You can listen to the entire message here and I've provided the text of the monologues below. As I say in the sermon introduction, all off these monologues are written from the person's perspective on Palm Sunday, not knowing, as we do, what the days ahead would hold.

Pontius Pilate

Well here I am back in Jerusalem again. How I despise having to come here. Clearly not a place for a civilized person. If fact this whole province of Judea is a god forsaken place. It is so hot, so dry and so dusty and the people here are among the most troublesome in the empire. It is in this place and these pesky jews that I’m to be governor over. Coming from a house as powerful and influential as the Pontii family a governorship was always in my future. I just wish I knew who thought so little of me that it was decided to send me here.

The province of Judea has always been problematic. Ever since the Persians decided to let these people come back they have been a thorn to the power of the day. The greeks kept them in line for a while but they rose up and gained their independence. Of course they couldn’t manage themselves and we Romans had to come in and take over. You see us Romans believe in Law and Order and we make life simple. Obey our law or we’ll put you in order.

When I first came here I tried to show them who was in charge and I had my troops come into Jerusalem bearing the ensign of the emperor. I did it quietly at night and the ensigns never left the garrison but those Jews found out and before I knew it a multitude of Jews were pounding at the gate in protest. For 5 days I refused to hear their petition and when I finally agreed to see the leaders on the sixth day I laid a trap. They came in, I had the guards lock the doors and then told the Jewish leadership they were surrounded and if they did not drop this matter and leave I would kill them where they stood. I was the authority of Rome and I wasn’t going to bend to this conquered people.

Well, that’s when I learned just how stubborn these people were. These crazy kooks got down on their knees and literally stuck their necks out to my soldiers’ swords. It was a gamble and it paid off. As troublesome as these people were I just couldn’t afford to have word get back to Rome that one of my first acts as prefect was to slaughter their religious leaders and incite a rebellion. They people needed to be put in their place but I realized that wasn’t the day and relented to their demands to remove our ensigns, and a bit of roman honour from their precious Jerusalem.

As time went on I learned to work with their leadership. It turned out their high priest Caiaphas and his cohorts were more political savvy than I first gave them credit for. We eventually came to an understanding where I stayed mostly in Caesarea Maritima, where my main administrative offices were, and the high priest and company would largely keep things under control. It really was an arrangement of mutual benefit because if this place blew up again, it would be both our heads on the block.

This arrangement worked and we kept an uneasy peace for many years. We even were able to get things done, like that new aqueduct to Jerusalem. We all knew it was needed but the money had to come from somewhere. We decided that I would “steal” money from the temple to finance the project. Caiaphas and I agreed that he would plead innocence to the people but would keep them in line. It was a win - win. The people saw that I was in charge and could take what I wanted, and Caiaphas was able to save face before the people.

Once Caiaphas and I had learned to work together we managed to keep the peace. Of course it helped that back in Rome my good friend Sejanus was Emperor Tiberius’ number two and was left in charge of the empire while Tiberius tried to retire. Sejenus and I were on the same page about these pesky Jews, they needed to submit to Roman law, Roman culture and Roman gods. These people needed civilization and order whether they knew it or not. That such a tiny, insignificant people should be granted such broad concessions was beyond us. As long as Sejanus was running things I knew I could go a long way before raising the ire of Rome.

At least until now, I could. The problem now is that Sejanus was a little too ambitious was about to try to overthrow Tiberius. Well Tiberius found out and was not pleased. Sejanus was executed. Now all of us who had been his allies are at risk. Tiberius is suspect of anyone who was close with Sejanus and the Jews know it. Tiberius is far too understanding and lenient when it comes to these people, if things get out of control on my watch it’ll be me having to bear my neck to a Roman sword!

Though my position is not nearly as secure as it once was I am still in control. I recently showed this when I took the authority to carry out capital punishment from the Jewish leaders. They’ve always had the freedom to punish their own people for religious crimes, taking away their ability to execute someone because he’s run afoul of their religious laws was a carefully calculated move. I took away just enough authority to show I’m still in charge but not so much as to really warrant them complaining to Tiberius. I figured that I execute criminals all the time, how much trouble could it cause if they have to get my approval to execute the occasional blasphemer? It’s probably a good thing Caiaphas and his cronies can’t execute anyone they deem worthy of death anyway. These jews can’t even get along among themselves, if Caiaphas wasn’t at least partially reigned in, he’d likely start executing his opponents just because he could and start a revolt all on his own.

So here I am in Jerusalem. It’s one of their great annual Passover feast and there will be Jews converging on the city from all over the empire. It’s one of the times I have to be in the city to make sure peace and order are maintained as this is a feast where they celebrate their God freeing them from slavery. I’ve also heard rumors that there’s a popular teacher from Galilee in town and he has Caiaphas and the other religious leaders concerned, apparently he’s been causing quite a stir. There was some kind of commotion when he came into town but I'm sure he won't amount to a thing. These Jews have had their share of such trouble makers who the people believe will deliver them from the might of Rome. Between me and Caiaphas we’ll keep the peace because as much as he frustrates me our necks are in this one together.


What a day. This was exactly the kind of start to Passover I wanted to avoid. It started this morning when Jesus, a rabbi from Nazareth of all places, showed up here in Jerusalem. Until now he's mostly stayed up in Galilee and mostly out of my hair but he's been gathering a frightening amount of support among the people and there have been whispers that he's about to start a revolt.

Those whispers became a shout today. You see it wasn't enough that he came to town, he came to town riding on a colt with the people shouting Hosanna! and waving palm branches. He came in like a king and people loved it and were openly declaring their desire to overthrow Rome and make this Jesus their king. Oh, the last thing I need is this kind of trouble. All that will happen is the Romans will finally have had enough and they'll send a legion and put down any rebellion. People just don't understand how precarious our situation is here. Yes, we're under Roman occupation but we are in the land. We have our temple and we can worship our God!

Truthfully we have it better under these occupiers than we've had under others, and we've had our share of occupiers over the years.

At least the Romans have come to understand we will not bend to their every whim. The Romans were smart when they conquered our land and put Herod in charge. Now Herod was a smart one. He knew how to play both sides. Though he wasn't terribly devout he at least paid lip service to being one of us. Being a close friend of the emperor certainly didn't hurt in his ambitions. Whatever his motivation, he kept the Romans out of our Temple and kept a semblance of peace.

Unfortunately, Herod's son was a disaster and we ended up with direct Roman rule. Rome sent prefects here to keep us in line. The prefect has the full authority of Rome and thus he does as he sees fit. One of the things these prefects have been doing is deciding who is the high priest each year. This of course goes right against the teaching of Moses that said the high priest was installed for life. I guess a little political interference is better than losing everything though. Of course not everyone sees it that way and many see me as just an illegitimate pawn of Rome and my father in law Annis is the true high priest. The thing is he, and my brothers in law didn't know how to work with the the Romans and the last prefect went through all four them in three years. I've been able to make it work for nearly 15 years now. Legitimate or not obviously I know how to get things done, even if I have to bend the rules a bit from time to time.

I had already been high priest for over a decade when Pilate was installed as governor. As it is anytime there is a change of leadership he tried to assert his authority over us early on. He underestimated me and the other jewish leaders and thought we’d easily bend to him. Oh the look on his face when we bared our necks to their swords. It was a calculated move of course. We knew that if he followed through word would get back to Rome and there was no guarantee that the emperor would look kindly on such an action. I think he and I both knew one of us had to blink, I’m just glad it was him.

Such has been the relationship between Pilate and I. We’ve learned where each other’s buttons are and how to push them. At the end of the day though we know that our fates are tied together. Recently however it would seem that his position is weaker than it has been. From what I hear, he hitched his chariot to the wrong horse in Rome and his closest ally has been executed. I wonder how much of a commotion I’d have to make to see that Pilate shared his fate. The trouble is you never know who would be sent in his place…

Anyway back to today and this troublesome Jesus of Nazareth. He really hadn’t been much more than another inconvenience and had largely stayed up in Galilee and out in the countryside. He had plenty of run ins with the teachers of the law, the Pharisees and priests. He had even come to Jerusalem a few times and caused some trouble but I figured he’d go away eventually, they all do. Then last week he pulled something no one has done. People are saying he raised a man from the dead down in Bethany, just a few miles outside of Jerusalem. I don’t know how he did it but word has spread fast. This guy, Lazarus had been dead four days and Jesus just told him to come out of the grave and he did.

I had to call a meeting of the Sanhedrin, our religious leadership council. The trouble was so many people were believing in him and the signs and wonders he was performing were undeniable. If people continued to believe in him, we could lose our authority because he clearly was not one of us. If we couldn’t control the people, the Romans would come and wipe us all out. I had to tell the council that we had no choice, we had to see to it that Jesus was killed. It was better that one man die, than a whole nation perish. We just had to find the right time and place.

We weren’t sure where or when that would be but we figured he would come sometime during Passover. None of us expected he would come into the city like he did today. The donkey, the procession, the waving of the palm branches. He made the task of plotting against him both easier and vastly more difficult at the same time. On the one hand, it could be easier to convince Pilate that Jesus is guilty of treason against Rome. People want to make Him King after all, and of course, we have no king but caesar. On the other hand, so many people are enamoured with him and it will be hard to arrest and try him without a revolt. This is something that must be done with cunning and stealth.

No one understands the pressures I’m facing here. I’ve got thousands of pilgrims here, many of whom are just looking for a reason to rise up again Rome. I’ve got Pilate in town to make sure I keep the people in line and if I don’t, he’s got troops ready to put us in line and this time if he and I face off, I don’t think he will blink. We’ve got to deal with this Jesus before he causes any more disruption.


Wow! What a day! What… a… day. So Jesus came into Jerusalem today and things went crazy. He’s been teaching around Galilee for a few years now and he’s come down here to Jerusalem a few times but never like this. Things really started picking up in recent days. Jesus went to Bethany, just down the road and raised a guy named Lazarus from dead. Now He’s performed many signs and tons of people have been healed but raising a guy from the dead that’s something you just can’t explain away. Ever since that happened everyone is talking about Jesus. He seemed to be laying low for a while but word got out yesterday that he was staying with Lazarus and his sisters in Bethany and so people bee lined it down there to see him and see if Lazarus had really been risen from the dead. Rumor is the priests were already planning to take Jesus out of the picture but after yesterday’s commotion I hear they want to put Lazarus back in that tomb and make sure he never comes out again.

Jesus had to know what he was doing when he came into the city. He had to have known the people would rally like they did. As he approached the villages of Bethany and Bethphage just outside of the city he sent two disciples to retrieve a colt. When someone asked what they were doing taking this colt he told them to say The Lord needs it. The Lord, not the teacher, not the rabbi, not Jesus, simply The Lord. The request carried an authority people rarely see. Few people would be so bold as to call themselves Lord. After his disciples retrieved the colt he sat on it and began riding toward the city. Of course everyone knew the prophecy of Zechariah when he told of the future restoration of our nation, that God would one day punish our enemies and bless Jerusalem again. He said

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

And here he was, this Jesus who had performed so many signs and wonders was riding into Jerusalem. Would it be now, at this Passover when we celebrate God’s great deliverance of our people from their oppressors in Egypt? Could it be now that God would now deliver us from the oppression of Rome? Oh I hope so! Oh how I hope God will finally deliver our people again.

You see it's been hard growing up here in Jerusalem in this age. I’ve always felt torn. Torn between living under Rome and living for God. Torn because I see the rules of the Pharisees, the compromises of the High Priest and the Sadducees, the extremism of the zealots each of them trying to live out how they believe we need to live to be God’s people. To me they all come up short.

I think a lot of people feel as I do. We’ve lived under oppression for much of our people’s history constantly subject to the powers of the day. Even when we were free, it never has really felt free.

There are lots of people who have their ideas of how we should carry on. There are those who believe we should just embrace the Roman way of life, or at least learn to live within it. The Romans haven’t been that bad in the grand scheme of things. They mostly let us worship our God and keep our way of life. They keep the peace and are good for trade. For some living in peace and being able to make a living is enough.

Others, like the Pharisees’ believe we just need to keep God’s law and he will be good to us. Of course in order to keep God’s law we need to keep all of their extra laws just to be sure we stay onside with God. I get the need to obey God’s law, it has been taught to me since before I could speak, but it seems these guys just keep piling rules upon rules. Its been funny to hear about Jesus’ interactions with these guys. Jesus seems to outwit them at every turn. Every time they try to trap him in their rules, he flips it around and shows just how out of line their hearts are.

Jesus’ teaching is always pointing to heart matters. Like one day, they brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus. According to our law she should have been stoned to death. Everyone knew it was a setup but everyone knew what must be done. Sin was sin and it had to be dealt with. But Jesus just sat there and wrote in the sand and said “whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” Well that’s not what they were expecting and one by one, they dropped their rock and walked away ashamed. To the woman Jesus said “go and sin no more.” It was like Jesus looked right into her heart and saw what really mattered. Its like he sees in all of us what’s in our hearts and who we really are.

To the weary and broken, he brings healing and rest. To the arrogant and proud he brings correction and humility. He is continually re-framing things in ways I have never heard before and it resonates with me. In some ways it also terrifies me. He is using frightening language like whoever follows me will have to take up their cross. That following him will cost everything. That he will pit brother against brother. He doesn’t pull any punches, whatever he is going to do is going to be costly to follow. Whatever it is that is coming, it is sure to come to blows with the Romans and the High priest. If Jesus is really here to free us, He is going to have to go through them first and it won’t be pretty for any of them, or, any of us caught in the middle.

I don’t know if I’m ready to give up the peace that Rome brings or the identity I have as a Jew but if Jesus is truly the one we’ve been waiting for; it will be worth the cost.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Review: Growing God's Church by Gary McIntosh

Growing God's church is the culmination of a 10 year research project to see how people were coming to Christ in an effort to update, correct and re-validate older research. Overall I found the information very interesting and informative but did feel the book may have been longer than needed. After laying out the background and methodology for the study, McIntosh spends the first half of the book re-framing the Great Commission for the Church today. It would be good for those who perhaps need a good reminder of what the church is to be. Overall the first part was something that one would expect to find in any decent book about the mission and purpose of the church. It was well written and the questions at the end of every chapter were helpful but overall I wouldn't say there was anything really new this first part.

The second part of the book however is where McIntosh begins to delve into the findings of his study. Each chapter has a short little fictional narrative introducing us to the topic followed by lots of stats and charts and wrapping up with a conclusion and some questions to help you think though your own context.

The research he presents is interesting and helpful. A few of the points that I took particular note of were 1) the increased role of pastors in leading people to faith (though family/friends were still the #1 way) 2) when people are seeking they won't travel too far to find a church and 3) a churches name had virtually no impact on people who were seeking. I take this to mean as churches we should be focusing on a defined area and building a good reputation in our area and be ready to welcome and engage those who come through our doors.

I would recommend this as a good read if you feel you need a good refocusing of what the church should be doing. If you are simply interested in the changing trends of how people are coming to Christ the latter half of the book could mostly stand on its own.

(I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Review - What We Believe: Understanding and Confessing the Apostles' Creed by R. C. Sproul

I'll be honest, I haven't finished this one. Though usually I can get through a book, even heavy ones, quickly, this is one I having to take my time with to savoir and ponder. This is apparently the 4th edition of this book where Sproul walks us through the ancient confession of faith we call the Apostles' Creed. The Apostles' creed is on of the oldest and most widely agreed upon creeds of the Christian faith. It spans centuries of the church as a most basic confession of what we believe. I've had the privilege of standing in the room where one of the councils that discussed the creed met and I felt a connection with those church leaders wrestling through what it meant to believe.

Though the creed seems simple enough in its brevity, every word in it was carefully discussed, debated and chosen. Sproul walks us through the creed in great detail, going over each phrase in detail. It is this level of detail that is making me take my time to digest each section. When one considers the painstaking work it was to put the creed together, I believe one should put the effort into digesting it properly.

I'm sure that the earlier editions were just as deep but what is obvious in this 4th edition is that Sproul has taken the time to update his illustrations and examples. As he communicates the meaning of the creed using language and examples are clearly appropriate to a 2015 audience. This is refreshing as too often I find later editions make very few changes are not completely current in the way they read.

I am enjoying my slow journey through the creed in this book and will continue to do so. If you are wanting to really understand what we believe through the lens of the Apostles' Creed I highly recommend you get this book and go through it yourself, or even better with others. The creed was worked out in community and really should continue to be worked out in community.

(I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own)