Finding the holy in everyday life

Finding Holy in the Suburbs

IVP – October 2018 – $16.00

How can we be holy when our lives are a mess?


[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]I doubt that any of us is today precisely where we thought we’d be when we were, say, eighteen. Our lives play out in ways we never thought they would.[/inlinetweet]

Those who journey through life without succumbing to the vices that are so easy to cultivate, do so because they have paid at least some attention to the ways that Jesus stepped into a less-than-ideal situation and in so doing redeemed.

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Regardless of where you live or whether you’re a man or a woman, what kind of car (or minivan you drive) Ashley Hales’s book can re-orient you in the midst of the less-than-ideal or, sometimes more dangerous, when you think you’re living the dream.[/inlinetweet]

It’s availably for pre-order now and comes out in October


Does God speak? Are we listening?

Does God speak? If He does, are we listening?

My answer to those question is that God is speaking. He speaks to His people primarily through Scripture, which is our rule of faith and life–the lens through which we evaluate the content of other messages or impressions that we believe come from God.

God also speaks through patterns in our lives, through people, through the book of nature. Together these things fall into the category of general revelation.

The problem is not that God isn’t speaking. The problem is that we’re not listening.

While I was reading a paper from a doctoral colloquium on church and mission (I know, geek alert), I came across a little phrase that captured my imagination: the recovery of our contemplative faculty. The phrase comes from Catholic theologian Ronald Rolheiser’s book, The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God.


Rolheiser’s central assertion is that, “our senses require healing and rehabilitation so that they are adequate for receiving and responding to visitations and appearances of [God]” (p.23). Contemporary society connives to kill our awareness of God: “God dies in our awareness and eventually in our churches as well” (p.107).

Coming from a significantly different theological perspective, Rolheiser echoes an observation made many years earlier by Stephen Charnock (1628-1680). Charnock decried the absence of God in the lives of many professed Christians: “…there is something of a secret atheism in all, which is the fountain of the evil practices in their lives, not an utter disavowing of the being of a God, but a denial or doubting of some of the rights of his nature” (24).

These two radically different Christian writers both touch on our deafness to God:

  • Rolheiser believes that we have simply crowded out the voice of God, become deaf to his voice because of our narcissism, pragmatism, and restlessness.
  • Charnock believes that we purposefully close our ears to the words of God due to our internal desire to be an authority unto ourselves.

Surely both men are right. Surely there is within each of us a unique blend of the desire to be an authority unto ourselves and the a canny inability to allow ourselves to be distracted from the counsel of God.

What causes you to close your ears to God?


Is God angry at sin?

Protestant churches—especially evangelical ones—typically sing their theology. In the absence of a formal liturgy hymnody carries the weight of theological formation. Scripture shapes our beliefs about God more in the theory than in reality. The average Christian spends little time exploring how the confessions interpret Scripture. Instead, our sung worship songs shape our beliefs. Their influence comes by virtue of their memorable lyrical quality. It takes less effort to memorize a song (sung regularly) than a catechism that is ignored.

That’s why I was so disturbed by the recent decision of the committee compiling the forthcoming Presbyterian hymnal Glory to God to omit the song, “In Christ Alone.” You can read the story here. If hymnody is sung theology then what does this decision say about the Presbyterian Church (USA)?


This decision is troublesome for several reasons. First, the committee weighed two ways of conceptualizing what a hymnal is. They asked the question: Is it a collection of diverse hymns reflecting a variety of theological views present in the church? As such, any commitment to a unified theological vision would be downplayed in favor of representation of various views or styles. Their should be no problem including this popular song.

They also asked: is a hymnal a “deliberately selective book” that emphasizes some views and excludes others on the basis of its “educational mission” (I prefer “catechetical mission”) for the church? This requires some degree of theological unanimity.

The prevailing view of the committee was that a hymnal has an educational message, which requires rejecting some theological viewpoints that no longer comport with the view of the church.

This is an important consideration. I agree with the decision of the committee to envision the hymnal as something that is consonant with and advances the theological vision of the church. The problem is that in making this decision the committee has emphatically set aside a theological vision that comports with my own. In the rush to be inclusive the committee has, in actuality, excluded a theological vision that has inspired many Christians over the centuries, not the least of whom is John Calvin.

Read the rest of the article here.

Milbank’s critique of some missional church expressions

John Milbank offers a biting critique of Fresh Expressions, a missional church movement in the Church of England. As ever, Milbank’s words are insightful and a helpful challenge to some problematic elements of missional praxis. I’ve embedded the article below and recommend that you take a read.


By way of a brief response to Milbank let me offer the following observations:

  1. Missional does mean participating in the mission of God in the world.
  2. Part of that mission is the establishment of particularized churches.
  3. These churches ought to be the base camp from which missional Christians go forth.
  4. These churches ought to preach the Word rightly, administer the sacraments, and equip the saints.
  5. The homogenous unit principle, though understandable, is not rooted in Scripture but in capitalism.
  6. Sacramental worship and missional ministry are complimentary rather than contradictory.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The surprising benefits of dumping Facebook

Each year I choose a discipline to add to my life during the season leading up to Easter, known as Lent. For the last several years I have intentionally chosen to dump Facebook–that is, to not log onto the site and interact with people through it. Caveat: I continue to automatically post blog posts to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. I also periodically check to make sure that I am not missing any important messages. This year, I’ve done a pretty good job of steering clear of the vacuum of Facebook and I’ve experienced at least five benefits that have surprised me.


Each year as I enter Lent I wonder whether it’s really worth giving up Facebook. It seems like there’s very little cost to being on the site. In fact, as the number of people you know who are “on Facebook” increases it can almost seem like there’s more of a cost to giving it up!

All things considered, I’ve made some surprising discoveries about Facebook which have proven beneficial.

  1. Facebook will give you as much time I as you give it…and more. I have about 900 friends on Facebook, which means that once I jump down that rabbit hole I can spend an hour just skimming status updates. 
  2. Facebook can be depressing. People often use Facebook to share their good news–engagements, new jobs, closing a big deal, a hot vacation, or a new car. Get one of these types of status updates in a day: great. Get a couple hundred and you start to think: what the heck is wrong with me? Aggregating stories of others’ affluence, professional competence, or other pieces of good news can actually be depressing. Why? At least in part because you don’t have access to the crap that lies beneath the surface in everyone’s life.
  3. Facebook needs to be managed. Just as in real time, there are people on Facebook who are just plain enervating. Their incessant banter about this topic or that gets on your nerves and drains you of energy. You have options: either “unfriend” them or “hide” their comments. You’ll thank yourself later.
  4. Facebook clutters your mental space and makes concentration harder. Honestly, I have used Facebook in different ways over the years (I’ve been “on Facebook” since 2005). While I was on sabbatical, I used it to connect with friends and to try to replace the community I had lost in stepping back from work relationships and student and faculty friendships. Prior to that, Facebook served two purposes: 1) it was an escape, and it was 2) a resource-gathering tool. Mostly, I’d work on some task I didn’t like (administration) and then as a reward spend some time “recovering” by going to Facebook. Often when there, given that I’m a learner, I’d discover some article, book, story that intrigued me. I’d explore it then or at a later time. This added mental stimulation often meant that I carried unfinished and unrecorded tasks through the day and, frankly, clogged up my mental bandwidth to do more important tasks. This gets back to the management element, it’s important to streamline and limit the information you take in from the internet. Too much information can be as paralyzing as too little.

Once Lent is over, I will return to Facebook with the proviso of placing boundaries on my usage. It’s likely, however, that on Shrove Tuesday 2014 I’ll be putting a status update on my Facebook account saying: “back in Easter!”

Five great books on discipleship

Discipleship means being apprenticed to or being understudy of Jesus. There are tons of great books on discipleship. It is, after all, the essence of life in Christ. 

I’ve made a list of five books on discipleship that were written (except for Lloyd-Jones) in my lifetime and that I continue to come back to as I consider how to be a fully devoted follower (disciple) of Jesus.

In the future, I’ll also post another list of my favorite books on discipleship written earlier in the history of the church.

1. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures.0802813879

This is a masterpiece of pastoral theology in the Puritan tradition. Lloyd-Jones carefully uses the Scriptures to explore the variety of factors that can cause us to experience spiritual depression. He is realistic in his appraisal and balanced in his application of Scripture to the Christian. Every Christian should read this book.




2. Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel.ragamuffin.gospel.manning

Manning’s purpose in writing is to expose us to the extravagant love of God. This love can only be deeply experienced when we admit our brokenness and inability to patch ourselves together. Is God’s grace sufficient to hold onto us even in the context of frailty and sin? Yes! This is the good news that Manning shares and in so doing helps us to move beyond false guilt and into true guilt that leads to authentic conversion.



3. Bill Hull, Choose the Life: Embracing a Faith that Embraces Discipleship.9780801064708

Hull wants to close the evangelical gap between “salvation” and “discipleship,” an un-Biblical separation that is the fruit of revivalism. If the Christian life is a marathon, he argues, then we need to train. As much as you may want to run the race, you won’t reach mile 26 unless you train. Spiritual formation, Hull prefers the word discipleship, is practicing the Christian disciplines to open ourselves to the presence of God and to allow him to make us more like Jesus. 


4. Pete Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.emotionally-healthy-spirituality-book


Ever wonder why people who are super religious can also be as mean as a snake? Scazzero claims that recent discipleship has not done a good job of integrating emotional health with growth in Christ. Many Christians are spiritually mature and emotionally immature. Scazzero, who has a doctorate in marriage and family therapy, connects discipleship and emotional health and offers a game plan for those who want their whole life to be under the Lordship of Jesus.


5. Wayne Cordeiro, Leading on Empty.9780764207594_p0_v1_s260x420


Burnout is an experience common to many. Cordeiro experienced a burnout accompanied by depression, which caused him to take a sabbatical from ministry duties in order to tend his own soul. This book offers practical advice on how to lead while recovering from burnout as well as how to build your life in a way that will help you minimize the chances of burning out.

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler

A wise man will make haste to forgive, because he knows the true value of time, and will not suffer it to pass away in unnecessary pain. He that willingly suffers the corrosions of inveterate hatred, and gives up his days and nights to the gloom of malice, and perturbations of stratagem, cannot surely be said to consult his ease. Resentment is an union of sorrow with malignity , a combination of a passion which all endeavour to avoid, with a passion which all concur to detest. The man who retires to meditate mischief, and to exasperate his own rage; whose thoughts are employed only on a means of distress and contrivances of ruin; whose mind never pauses from the remembrance of his own sufferings, but to indulge some hope of enjoying the calamities of another, may justly be numbered among the most miserable of human beings, among those who are guilty without reward, who have neither the gladness of prosperity nor the calm of innocence.

It is easiest t…

It is easiest to forgive, while there is yet little to be forgiven. A single injury may soon be dismissed from the memory; but a long succession of ill offices by degrees associates itself with every idea; a long contest involves so many circumstance, that every place and action will recall it to the mind, and fresh remembrance of vexation must still enkindle rage, and irritate revenge.

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler


What is the church?

The gospel teaches us that the Church is the one and only foretaste of heaven now because she alone has a real participation in the life of God on earth…. This divine reality of foretaste and first fruits is the key to understanding the Church’s power and relevance.

Scot Sherman, “Why the Church?” in Looking Forward: Voices from Church Leaders on Our Global Mission. (MTW, 2003).