ISIS & The Spread of the Gospel

When I met a group of Iranian church leaders in Sweden their fear was that Muslims would turn to secularism, even to atheism. Many have come to the church, but this requires the church to be a “safe space” for Muslims. The tragedy is that many churches are not welcoming for Muslims. They regard them as the enemy. Recently, in a shameful display in Texas, a group of Christians heckled a Muslim meeting and called on them to leave the country. The harvest in Sweden is partly a result of the church taking a stand for Muslim immigrants and against local nationalist parties. The church in Sweden is a “safe space” for Muslims. Is the evangelical church in America a “safe space” for Muslims?

Long story short: the brutality of ISIS is causing muslims across the globe to reconsider their faith. What will your response be? Read more here.

Linked List // July 3 2015

  • I'd agree with this article: DuckDuckGo is the way to search (especially if you care about privacy/security).
  • If you are curious about what's going on in Greece (and feel pretty clueless) this is a good starting point.
  • Adware/Malware on the mac is becoming a more prevalent issue. Check out Adware Medic to scan your computer and clean things up if you are at all worried.
  • It's stories like this that make people so skeptical about charismatic things. "It's OK if we have to fake it a little bit," my mentor told me once, "because people need to see the power of God, and it's OK if we have to fudge things to make that happen."

Encryption & Privacy

Encryption protects our data. It protects our data when it's sitting on our computers and in data centers, and it protects it when it's being transmitted around the Internet. It protects our conversations, whether video, voice, or text. It protects our privacy. It protects our anonymity. And sometimes, it protects our lives.

This protection is important for everyone. It's easy to see how encryption protects journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists in authoritarian countries. But encryption protects the rest of us as well. It protects our data from criminals. It protects it from competitors, neighbors, and family members. It protects it from malicious attackers, and it protects it from accidents.

...

This is important. If we only use encryption when we're working with important data, then encryption signals that data's importance. If only dissidents use encryption in a country, that country's authorities have an easy way of identifying them. But if everyone uses it all of the time, encryption ceases to be a signal. No one can distinguish simple chatting from deeply private conversation. The government can't tell the dissidents from the rest of the population. Every time you use encryption, you're protecting someone who needs to use it to stay alive.

Read the rest of what Bruce Schneier says here.

I couldn't agree more. Encryption is something we all should care about. Privacy is somethiing we should all be cognizant to. There are people the world over whose life depends on it definitely but it should still matter just as much to you if yours doesn't. There are lots of tools to help facilitate this and lots of things you can be doing. I'll begin writing soon about some of these tools and some of these ways. For your sake (and the safety of others) please consider it thoughtfully.

Linked List // June 26 2015

Watch Reruns To Restore Mental Energy

We all have those shows that we can watch over and over again. Far from being a mind-numbing exercise one University of Buffalo study has shown that watching your favorite reruns can actually restore your mental energy.

The theory relates to the idea that self-control and willpower are limited resources that we use up when we work on important projects rather than play Destiny with our friends online.

“With enough time, these mental resources will return,” says Jaye Derrick, lead researcher of the UB study. “However, there may be ways to more quickly restore them.”

Derrick says that re-watching loved TV shows and movies can restore our mental energy and willpower because we find comfort in our surrogate relationships with our favorite characters.

I've done this for years and my wife thinks I'm crazy. Now though? Scientific proof I might be on to something...

From The Most Productive Ways to Waste Time

Unicorns & the Bible

And that's how unicorns got into the bible.

But more modern translations, knowing more about the re'em, tend to go with "wild ox" over "unicorn."

Interesting look over at Experimental Theology regarding the KJV Bible and translation issues in the original text that led to an extinct version of cattle being translated as unicorn.

It's issues like these that make me wonder how or why anyone would be KJV Only.

Linked List // June 21 2015

  • I found This to be a good article on launching a blog. It’s crazy detailed (and may be a bit much for some people) but there is a lot of good info within. So - far all of you who have asked me about this over the past few months: look to this article first.
  • Mission Drift is something I’ve processed in various contexts over the past few months. This article looks at it in the context of church. It applies more broadly though. Perhaps one of the most helpful bits? ”Say no to some very good things.”
  • In business/corporation/organizational news, do you know how to end your emails? What’s best? ”Nothing. Don’t sign off at all. With the rise of Slack and other office chatting software, e-mail has begun functioning more like instant messaging anyway.” Say thanks if you are thanking someone but other wise, you don’t really need anything (and it more often than not it can be inappropriate to use something). From here: “You’re Ending Your Emails Wrong”
  • 6 Core Needs in the Workplace. A pretty interesting read.

A Wealthy Life?

I find the prosperity gospel to be most objectionable. The idea that God wants us to be self absorbed — focused on our own health, wealth and western ideals of prosperity — has done more to harm the kingdom of God than build it up. It also directly contradicts Biblical, particularly New Testament, notions of kingdom living.

I was reminded this once again while reading on a plane. I started reading Luke but before jumping into the text, I asked for God to highlight simple things that I’d missed before. One of those dealt specifically with our false notions of prosperity and kingdom living. It comes specifically from Luke 5 and is the story of Jesus and the fishermen.

3 He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will lower the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets started to tear. 7 So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they were about to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For Peter and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s business partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Here is something amazing. Jesus is traveling with these fisherman and teaches some from their boat. What exactly — we don’t know. We could probably guess a little bit — it seems that often Jesus taught about what the kingdom of God is like, through parables and stories and simple truths, like in the sermons on the mount and plains. He often spoke of an alternative lifestyle — one lived in a subversive opposition to the dominant culture.

And so here are these fishermen. They first recognized that in Jesus, there was someone worth listening to. Even though they had been out fishing all night with nothing to show for their hard work, they were willing to take Jesus at His word. When He said, ”Lower your nets” they did, and to their amazement caught more fish than they likely had ever seen at one given time. They even had to call another boat over to hold all of the excess. For these fishermen, this likely represented an enormous wealth such that they didn’t often come across.

For us in the states, more often than not it seems that this would have been the end of the story. God is supposed to bless us with wealth beyond measure. It’s an expectation to live and walk in. And sadly this satisfies us. So often we leave it at that (wealth accumulation as outward sign of blessing) and ignore the greater truth of what abundance and wealth truly is.

Thankfully though for Simon Peter and his business partners, this wasn’t a sufficient end to the story. They are amazed at the wealth but more amazed with Jesus. Jesus’ abundance immediately draws attention to their deficiency. But not the deficiency of their pocketbooks — the deficiency of their hearts.

And what they did next is truly amazing. As soon as they got to shore they left all of that new found wealth behind (as well as everything else that they had) to follow Jesus. The wealth truly didn’t matter a single bit when contrasted with Jesus (the source of all our life). Worldly wealth pales in comparison with the wealth of a heart filled with His kingdom.

Incarnation as Model for Mission


1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 1:2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 1:3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 1:5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.

1:14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.

1:18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.

John 1:1-5; 14; 18


It’s Christmas time and generally in church we talk about the birth of Jesus and all that surrounded it. I want to do that here too, but from a slightly different angle; this is something that kind of has to be done if you are using John as your primary Christmas text. You see, John starts out with a completely different Christmas story than Matthew or Luke. Instead of the details of the events surrounding the Nativity scene (including wise men and shepherds and a baby in a manger) we get a wholly different view of Jesus and His entrance into the world. In much the same way Genesis 1 poetically describes GOD imaginatively creating this world, here in John we are given a picture of GOD imaginatively entering into it.

The first few verses of John make is abundantly clear who Jesus is — He is the Word — the LOGOS — who has always been with GOD and who actually is GOD. Not only that — it is by this WORD that all things, all of us, everything we see — hear — feel — were created.

The parallel of these first few verses with Genesis is also quite important (and intriguing). In these verses, we have a deconstruction of the creation event, giving more details to the original story and hinting that something new and different is happening. We immediately come to find the power in GOD’s words at the beginning of time, “Let there be light!” This power is the move of Jesus into our world and it connects immediately what was (creation and history pre-Jesus) with what will be (Jesus bodily arriving as the inaugural event of the coming Kingdom of God).

This is important to keep in mind; we see throughout the Old Testament GOD’s desire to be in relation with people. He walks and talks with Adam and Eve in the garden. He covenants with Abraham. He wrestles with Jacob. He divinely intervenes upon hearing the cries of His oppressed people in Egypt. He fights on their side against the Godless. He identifies one of our heart’s (David’s) with His own. He loves them enough to send messengers to direct their footpaths back to Him. GOD desires a people to call His own, who number as the stars in the sky, and live righteous and just lives before Him.

Looking back to John, and its parallels to our beginnings, it’s GOD as written word that first comes to the Israelites in the form of the law. This didn’t have the desired affect of creating a nation centered around GOD, living righteously and justly before Him. It certainly produced knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20-25) but not life and the people He desired.

His people continued to live selfish lives centered on themselves, missing entirely the spirit of the WORD of GOD for its letter. GOD in WORD only and not flesh was not having the desired affect. Something else had to be done. The mission of GOD, carried out through His WORD acted out via His people was not sufficient.

And this is the part we get back to one of the most excited verses in John (at least to my ears). John continues on with his narrative of the creation event saying that the WORD became flesh. GOD, in the person of Jesus, was moving into our neighborhood. We were finally able to see the glory of GOD with our own eyes. No longer was His presence restricted to a temple or His WORD to a confining — not freeing — law.

This truly was (and still is) a radical change. John tells us that know one ever before had truly seen GOD; in the past people have glimpsed His glory but no one has truly seen Him. The shadow we’d known was coming into clear focus in the person of Jesus — God made flesh.

It’s so exciting to think that in doing this GOD changed the course of history forever. GOD’s mission had a new central expression: incarnation — becoming flesh — moving in with us — being one of us.

A natural question that stems from this is “How does the incarnation — God becoming flesh — affect the ministry of Jesus?” It’s easy for me to say that incarnation is a new expression but if it doesn’t have any affect than it really shouldn’t matter to us. There are two specific affects, thought, that build upon each other and are worth exploring now.

The first affect of the incarnation on the ministry of Jesus is that it made GOD Radically present among His people. No longer did He have to speak through priests and prophets. No longer was His presence confined to one room of a temple. He was actually one of them, living how they lived and doing what they did. For the first 30 years of His life in fact, He blended into the culture.

The second affect builds from the first one. Because Jesus was radically present, He was able to clearly speak directly to the needs of the people. This isn’t to say that before Jesus, GOD didn’t know their needs and didn’t intervene on their behalf or make Himself known; the OT is rife with examples of God meeting the needs of His people. Rather, the lack of distance and religion, and the creation of a relationship, allowed Jesus to directly speak into the hearts of people. No longer was approaching GOD a systematic, religious act but an actually encounter with a living, breathing person that spoke and acted and talked as one of them. The people who believed knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that GOD in Jesus was seeing the deficiency of their lives, specifically where they lacked HIM, and Jesus could directly fill them with His life.

So why should the incarnation and its affect on the ministry of Jesus matter to us? Primarily because Jesus demands incarnation of His follower. John 17:18 says, “Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.” This is in a prayer of Jesus to His Father about His disciples in which He goes on to include all that believe in Him throughout the ages.

And this might seem scary and hard. We aren’t GOD and we aren’t magically going to be born into a new culture. So how do we go about incarnational mission? Their are some keys to this which lay in an important passage of Paul but first it’s important to discuss the starting point.

To that end, it starts with God and His work in us, of course. John 20:21 reiterates that His people are to be sent people, living in the world as Jesus lived in the Jewish world. It goes on to say that Jesus breathed onto them and they received the Holy Spirit. God is forever our only source for anything we do, particular for that which is done in accordance with His mission. His Holy Spirit, living within us is a must and the source of any “power”, “ability”, “wisdom”, or “knowledge” that we may have.

And Paul goes on to lay out how Jesus did it and how we can follow Him in it:


You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 2:6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 2:7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 2:8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! 2:9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – 2:11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Phil. 2:5-11


It starts with an emptying of ourselves. We must be willing to give up all that we are and take on all that Jesus was, sharing in His emptying of Himself to become human. This means getting rid of our own modes of classification. It ceases to be an us/them thing, becoming only us. It ceases to be about our culture versus theirs, instead letting Jesus bleed into the cracks of theirs. Economics no longer matter. Skill or intelligences ceases to be a deal. Even Gender ceases to be a big issue. Incarnation levels the playing field so that God can meet people wherever they are at.

It also means an attitude of service. Paul says Jesus took on the form of a slave and the gospels detail clearly His service to those all around Him. He washed His disciples feet, healed the sick, forgave sins and fed miraculous amounts of food to extremely large crowds. Everything He did and everything He shared was done in an attitude of service to the people He was born into and loved.

He was also obedient to the point of death on a cross. Obedience characterized His mission. John says obedience starts with the Son doing as the Father does (5:19;30) and that Jesus did what pleased the Father (8:28). It goes that we should do the same. And it’s got to be something we are so sold out in that we are willing to even, as Jesus did, give our lives to it.

And there we have an admittedly brief look at the incarnational mission of Jesus and how we are called to participate in it. It leaves me with a few questions worth reflecting on:

  1. For starters it’s worth asking, “am I obeying Jesus and walking in His mission?” It’s not just something that people are called to do by moving overseas. In most cases, at least at the beginning of our walks with Jesus, we don’t need any other calling than that Jesus said “do it”. There are people and groups and cultures all around us that need Jesus and need someone to actually be Him where they are at. Think of your workplace. Or your school. The cool, local coffee shop. Perhaps the local homeless shelter or the street or apartment complex you live in. We are surrounded by people everyday that need Jesus’ love just as much as you do.

  2. If you are walking in His mission, is there a group of people you are particularly called to? It could be someplace or community you find yourself regularly involved in now.

  3. And finally, if so how are you (or how could you be) incarnating Jesus into the lives of these people?

A Thought For Our Day

I thought I might share a thought for the day that starts with a question. In Jesus, were you given a spirit of fear? Or were you given something entirely different — a Spirit of power? Of love? Of self-control? This is an extremely important question which should greatly shape how we walk out our days. I’m hoping the answer is obvious. If not — turn no further than Paul’s second letter to Timothy. The first chapter opens with an exhortation to Timothy to remember the gift that we possess in the Lord —

For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7

This begs me ask the followup question: Why do so many Jesus followers, fearing we are on the verge of the worst (either the end times specifically or national judgement due to the politics in Washington or some other imminent apocalypse) live like the former when we should be living like the latter? It’s disquieting hearing all of the talk that we as Christians should be readying ourselves for some sort of doom, or to head to the caves and across the borders in defeat or to buy up guns and such for the coming wars, whenever or whatever they might be. It seems to be rooted in an unholy fear — a fear that perhaps Christ’s death really wasn’t enough for us and the rest of the world, that perhaps our fate really wasn’t decided on Calvary as we might have supposed. Or at least that’s the impression we leave people with.

Where does this come from? I read the scriptures, spend time meditating on the person of Jesus and what He has accomplished and ushered in to this world and can’t find this fear or response in any of it. Were Jesus not in the picture, we might have something to fear but because Jesus is in the picture, the worst that evil can do is no match. Paul’s letter to Timothy says not 3 verses from his answer to the first question that Jesus has broken the power of death.

…He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel!

2 Timothy 1:10

In John’s first letter it says that Jesus’ once and for all destroyed the works of the devil (that’s why He came into this world!). And again it shines through — in Jesus there isn’t anything anymore to fear. Honestly, I think some of the fear is wrapped up in how we individualistically view the cross. The reductionist tendency to see Jesus’ death as solely affecting the individual makes us miss the bigger picture — we are definitely a part of it but Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection brought victory decisively over all evil, once and for all. That should mean nothing to fear.

And it should flow from all of this, I hope, that rather then trying to escape when the going gets tough we should live in the realization that we are the tough (empowered by a Holy Spirit unlike anything in this world) and that we should get going, not away but into the thick of it, making Jesus’ kingdom known and available, here and now, for those who desperately need it. It saddens me to hear the Gospel cheapened into some sort of an escape plan when it, by it’s very nature, has the ability to radically change the world around us. I think it rather foolish of us to think that the time we live in is somehow so radically different from those times throughout history. Considering the Christian experience under pagan Roman rule is one early example of how easy we have it in light of what could be. And the kingdom of God exploded in that time period. Withdrawal, escape, rebellion, violence and other such ideas antithetical to living out the kingdom as its ambassadors wasn’t the modus operandi but living out the Word — Jesus and His life — was. It changed the world once; it’s foolish to think that it couldn’t again.

I started by mentioning that I wanted to share a thought for the day. Really this is a thought for our time and all time. It’s something to take with us wherever God takes us. It’s something to cling to. If the power of the Cross can transform our hellish lives into heavenly bodies then no matter how bad the world around might look we should walk in confidence knowing that the war is done and over and that one day, even if not today, the Kingdom will reign.

It's The End Of The World As We Know It

Coming back from lunch, my co-workers and I had an odd encounter. There was a man in sweats with a dog passing out flyers. Curious, I took one. It turns out that this man was a Christian of the far right fringe; his brochure claims that the end of the world is near, giving its date as May 21, 2011.

Folks and encounters like these both amuse and disturb me. It amuses me that they would make such brazen claims (against the clear teaching of scripture); it disturbs me because this is all that many hear or know of Christianity. For those with this or similar beliefs, I think it’s important to keep in mind a few scriptures (these are important — not just words of wisdom from Brandon).

  • Matthew 24:36 — “But as for that day and hour no one knows it –- not even the angels in heaven -– except the Father alone.”“ It’s parallel in Mark specifically says not even the Son — Jesus — knows. So…we have here a group claiming knowledge that Jesus didn’t even have while on earth and that it specifically says no one has. We are commanded to always be alert but there is never an expectation that we could possibly know, in fact alertness comes because it’s not something we will ever know. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 confirms this as well in Paul, specifically saying that the Day of the Lord’s return is like a thief in the night — at a time we never know.

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:21 — “But examine all things; hold fast to what is good.” Knowing the above (the exact day isn’t something we will ever know) makes examining this and any sort of prophecy extremely important. It is a scriptural mandate after all. 1 Corinthians 14:29 tells us that we should examine all prophecy given as well. Just because someone claims a prophecy (or some sort of secret knowledge) doesn’t mean we are to buy into it hook, line and sinker; we have a responsibility to be responsible with whatever was given.

  • Acts 17:11 — “…they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so.” Our number one way to examine any prophecy, word, etc must be against scripture. If the two do not line up scripture always trumps. The Bereans where known for testing all things against scripture and we’d be wise to as well. If we did, we’d know that claims like this are baseless as they go against the clear words of Jesus.

  • Deut 18:22 — “…whenever a prophet speaks in my name and the prediction is not fulfilled, then I have not spoken it; the prophet has presumed to speak it, so you need not fear him.” It’s telling to look at groups that have made prophecies like this in the past. Remember the Y2K scare perhaps? There have been others too, and it’s groups like this one making the claim. Now this “word” won’t be proven true or false until May 22, 2011 but looking at past fruit I imagine would be telling.

Like I said, claims like the above disturb me. It turns people further away from Jesus. It distorts the Bible and the clear teaching of Jesus. It produces fear and madness — not the fruits of the Spirit — in peoples hearts.

I have more to say as well, but will hold off for the moment.

A City on a Hill


You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16


As I previously mentioned, I spent 7 days in Vegas a couple of weeks ago. Vegas, suffice it to say, is not my favorite place to be in this world (particularly where I was: the strip). Everywhere is a casino and it seems that the big seven sins are glorified (particularly greed, lust, envy and pride). Everywhere you go in fact, it seems that they are thrown in your face. It was quite meaningful then to read and meditate on the above verses.

You see Las Vegas (both physically and metaphorically) is the “city on a hill” that the world presents. It epitomizes everything the world holds dear and glorifies everything Christ doesn’t. Physically it’s a wonder to behold. The strip is lit as bright as day at night due to all the lights (as evidenced in the picture). The Luxor Hotel shoots an incredibly bright spotlight up to the heavens even (visible in the center of the picture). Metaphorically, we need look no further than its bold proclamation “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!” It appeals to all of our base and dark emotions as humans: the greed to get more and more from the casino machine, the lust to do what we want — see what we want — however we want, and the pride to know that its all OK here, to name just a few things.

It was both encouraging and emboldening then to read this passage (in the light of the surrounding Sermon on the Mount) and to know that this isn’t at all what the city of God is. To know that it shines brighter than anything the world can throw at it is so encouraging. Regardless of how bright the strip of Vegas seems to be in the darkest night — it’s all artificial and is nothing compared to God’s kingdom. And it’s incredibly emboldening to know that we can (and are) to walk in this light, shining before everyone that we meet regardless of where we are.

And so — this simple truth, that my life shines before people in contrast to the artificial light that the world produces, became my prayer throughout my days in Vegas. I don’t pretend perfection but I was able to have several encouraging encounters with folks. I would commend any one reading to contend as well for a life that shines brightly and in contrast to the light the world produces.

Written after one of my trips to Las Vegas