Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My favorite reads in 2015

It is the time of year when every pumps there favorite books of the year.

Scot McKnight's list

Kevin DeYoung's list

Christianity Today has numerous books that I have marked as things I would like to read maybe someday. Especially anything by Lauren Winner

But here is my list of books I read this year. That are not in any particular order. I wish I would have read more but alas there is always next year and I still have two weeks left.

1) Faith Speaking Understanding by Kevin Vanhoozer
This was a book I used as the basis/inspiration for the "Summer Study" class we did in partnership Awakening. I actually got to meet Vanhoozer and talked to him about the class and he asked, "would you do it again?" He expressed the difficulty for even himself to teach to congregations about his theater metaphor for theology lived. This was a challenging read and it was an attempt by him to distill his larger works and move beyond theory to practice.

2) Prayer by Timothy Keller
I think I started this book in late 2014 and read it in January. There were many gems in this book but his advice for recovering a devotional practice was very helpful. He just released a devotional book going through all the Psalms in a year called, The Songs of Jesus.

3) Pastoral Theology by Thomas Oden
I read a lot of books about pastoral ministry this year. Many of them were either highly critical of modern excesses in large churches or more popular level leadership type books. There are always nuggets to take away but they often lack the sense of things that transcend our day. Oden specializes in the early church and aims in a lot of his writings to immerse in the wisdom of the church throughout the centuries. This is why I found his book so helpful, especially on topics like pastoral care, visitations for the sick and care for the poor. It is theological rich and practical and spoke to things a pastor ought to do regardless of the times. I don't share several of Oden's theological commitments but there was little in this book to dispute.

4) Soul Keeping by John Ortberg
This book kind of felt like Ortberg's tribute to Dallas Willard. It was easy to read and filled with a lot insight in caring for our neglected souls.

5) Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann
Books on the Psalms fall into two categories: sentimental and fluffy devotional reading that ignores the insights of scholarship or overly technical scholarship that robs the Psalms of their heart. Breuggemann's aim in this book was to wed the two through a basic categorization of the Psalms as orientation (creation focused and innocent in outlook), disorientation (wrestling with sin, suffering, and evil), and reorientation (moving beyond the previous to a deeper view of God and life with him). He also included some wonderful reflections on the difficult parts of the Psalms dealing with suffering and calling on God to destroy one's enemies.

6) Shrink by Tim Shuttle and Deep Church by Jim Belcher
These two books were from people of contrasting church traditions (Anabaptist and Reformed respectively) but both had good insights into what the church should look like today.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent Reading Plan

This year for Advent, I am going to follow the reading plan from a new book call The First Days of Jesus by Kรถstenberger and Alexander Stewart. It is a follow up to their previous book, The Final Days of Jesus which is a unique blend of theology, background and devotional reading of the final week leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. This book is similar but starts at the beginning with Jesus' birth and early life. You can pick up the book on Amazon and follow the reading plan they provide below. If you don't pick up the book, you can still follow the scripture reading plan that is only a few verses each day leading up to Christmas.

December 1   - Luke 1:1-4, Introduction in First Days of Jesus
December 2   - Genesis 49:8-12, Chap. 1
December 3   - Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-5, Chap. 1
December 4   - Micah 5:2-4, Chap. 1
December 5   - Matthew 1:1-17, Chap. 1
December 6   - Matthew 1:18-25, Chap. 2
December 7   - Matthew 2:1-12, Chap. 3
December 8   - Matthew 2:13-15, Chap. 4
December 9   - Matthew 2:16-18, Chap. 4
December 10 - Matthew 2:19-23, Chap. 4
December 11 - Luke 1:5-25, Chap. 5
December 12 - Luke 1:26-38, Chap. 5
December 13 - Luke 1:39-45, Chap. 6
December 14 - Luke 1:46-56, Chap. 6
December 15 - Luke 1:57-66, Chap. 7
December 16 - Luke 1:67-80, Chap. 7
December 17 - Luke 2:1-7, Chap. 8
December 18 - Luke 2:8-21, Chap. 9
December 19 - Luke 2:22-40, Chap. 10
December 20 - John 1:1-5, 18, Chap. 11
December 21 - John 1:6-8, 15, Chap. 12
December 22 - John 1:9-14, Chap. 13
December 23 - John 1:16-17, Chap. 14
December 24 - Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Chap. 15
December 25 - Revelation 21:1-8, Epilogue

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Who Wrote 2 Peter?

We are starting a new series this week leading up to Christmas, 2 Peter: The Promise of His Coming. 2 Peter is a neglected book that speaks to a church fending off attacks that Christ is not coming so the ethical demands of the faith are not binding. Not exactly a "Christmas cheer" message. The coming of Christ is often associated with hope and the good news of Jesus making the world right. What is sometimes glossed over is that to make the world right, judgment must come.
The letter is short and attributed to Simon Peter (cf. Acts. 15:14), a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:1). He writes that he is going to die soon (1:14), witnessed Jesus' baptism and transfiguration (1:18-19), and that this is the second letter he wrote (3:1). He also has read some of Paul's letters and affirms them as scripture (3:15-16). But there are significant stylistic differences to 1 Peter and its apparent dependence on the book of Jude (cf. 2 Pet. 2:1-17) make it difficult for many to accept a date prior to Peter's martyrdom in the mid- to late 60s AD. For these and other reasons, the authorship of 2 Peter has been heavily disputed, more so than any other book in the New Testament. This was true even in the early church and part of the reason it was among the few books that faced an uphill battle to be included in the NT canon.
The significance is whether 2 Peter is a reliable testimony from an eye witness and apostle of Jesus Christ – the infamous Simon Peter, the "rock," who ministered in Rome. It also matters based on how we read the letter and its circumstances. While it cannot be definitively proven, Richard Bauckham has demonstrated 2 Peter has the qualities of being a "last testament," a Jewish genre often written shortly after the death of a notable hero and accepted as consistent with their teaching. Bauckham therefore argues for a mediating view between traditional authorship and outright rejection that Peter was behind it at all. He contends that it was written by a close associate of Peter, perhaps Linus who was Clement's predecessor in Rome, published after his death in the 70's to 90's AD. He also argues this does not infringe on the letter's integrity or its acceptance as divinely inspired scripture for inclusion in the canon.
But Michael Green and others have argued that we can accept the letter as written by Peter. It still received far greater support than apocryphal works attributed to Peter. 1 Peter's more refined style can be due to the help of Silvanus (1 Pet. 5:12). There is little reason to think just because Peter felt free to use Jude's arguments he could not have penned it or that it would have been too early for that to be possible. The theological concern about the delay of Christ's coming is seen in early Christian writings that are widely accepted so it is not a later development (cf. 1 & 2 Thessalonians). Peter Davids makes an excellent point that both Green and Bauckham offer a reasonable defense for their conclusions but based on historical grounds alone; we simply do not know enough about Peter's life or have a large enough sample of his work to definitely say he did or did not write 2 Peter. The tie then goes to internal testimony of the letter itself combined with church tradition. The best evidence we have is the letter itself.
Accepting that Peter wrote it, late in his life but before his death which Jesus' foreshadowed (John 21), we have his final words to the church. He was pleading with them to remember his testimony to who Jesus was and how we should live in light of his coming. He sharply warns them against those who would lead them astray and again pleads they remain faithful. The coming of the Lord compels us to live by kingdom ethics and his delay is so that as many people as possible may have an opportunity to respond to him in faith (2 Pet. 3:8-10).
Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary, Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983.
Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.
Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2006.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Center For Pastor Theologians Conference

Last week I went to a conference in Chicago for the Center for Pastor Theologians. The basic vision of this group is to bring about theological renewal for the church and by the church through the "pastor theologian." Some of the greatest thinkers in the history of the church have been pastors: Augustine, Gregory the Great, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Bonhoeffer, etc. A pastor theologian is uniquely positioned to fill the gap that exists in the modern world between the academic sphere and the life of the church.

The problem is many today look to scholars or professional theologians for leadership and not to their local pastor. There is a vast amount of research that is done by these professionals, much of it good, but it is inaccessible or of little benefit to the church. On the other hand, Christian bookstores are filled with much devotional literature that is superficial and theologically suspect. There are few works that serve the church with deep reflection on scripture and the gospel that gives rise to greater worship. Historically examples include works like Augustine's Confessions or Bonhoeffer's Life Together.

There were numerous highlights from the conference. Gerald Heistand articulated different kinds of pastoral theologians. Peter Leithart taught how a pastoral theologian can fill the gap while illustrating it with Revelation 14 (an amazing feet). Jamie Smith spoke on the pastor theologian as "political theologian" (political in the sense of the life of the people). Kevin Vanhoozer spoke on how the pastor theologian ministers the reality of being in Christ to the people and what that means. Lastly, Todd Wilson spoke on the role of suffering as being one of the primary places God shapes the theology of the pastor for the good of the church. What was clear throughout is the importance of the sermon and the life of the church to form and shape one's theology. There was a push against the idea that the best place to do theology is in the library divorced from real life. Yet, at the same time serious academic study does equip a pastor for greater clarity of thought and rigorous research skills. There was a lot of encouragement that more of the church's best minds should seek pastoral ministry rather than the academy.

The benefit for me was the encouragement to continue to be serious about theology and at the same time to keep it grounded and accessible to people. Each speaker stressed to not underestimate people's appetite for challenging works of Christian theology or the ability for people to think theologically. It was also helpful to see how some maintain the worshipful nature of deep Christian reflection without getting bogged down in endless technical debates and speculation. It is possible to be both deep and appeal broadly.

I was very encouraged by the conference and was thankful for the opportunity to go. It gave me further clarity for my own passions and calling and what it may look like for me to strive to be a pastor who is a local theologian for the glory of God and in service to the church.

You can learn more about the conference at their website:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

An anonymous prayer

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for help that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy my life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked  for, but everything I had hoped for.
I am among men, most richly blessed.

*Taken from Thomas Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1983), 248.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Getting Connected with Dwell

About a month ago, our elders, staff, and deacons meet to pray and plan through things our church should focus on in the coming year. The main theme that drove our retreat was rhythms. Paul says in Ephesians 5:15-16, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” There is a single verb for the phrase "making the best use of the time" that means redeem or buy up. We must actively resist the pull of sin and evil in the world and take advantage of opportunities to do good and grow in holiness.

After reflecting on the last year, who we are, and what kind of people live in San Jose we needed a way to get build stronger community in our church and with our friends and neighbors. This led to us doing some more detailed research on who lives in our city. San Jose is extremely diverse and also younger than most cities. Its primary demographic however is affluent families and this is especially true in our immediate neighborhood. One of the more notable pieces of information we gathered was the value of recreation in comparison to the general US population. Whether due to the riches of outdoor activities and favorable climate in the Bay Area or seeking a release from the pressures of work, people seek things to do for fun.

Therefore, we identified simple and consistent ways we can connect with people, especially families and working professionals. Things that most of us do frequently anyway. The other value is to have something you would feel comfortable inviting someone to. You can see the various things we have planned on our church calendar on our website. They are as follows:

1) Every 2nd and 4th Saturday morning at 10am several of us will be at a local park. Our kids can play together and maybe a few of us adults can have a conversation! This is a good opportunity for parents of young children to connect.

2) Thursday nights at San Pedro Market at 7pm. If you haven't checked out the cool San Pedro Market downtown you should. There are numerous great places to eat, desert, live music, and plenty of places to hang out. Anyone can come but this is geared towards those who don't have to worry about "bedtime."

3) Every 4th Friday we will have a movie night. This last week we showed Big Hero 6 and had more 40 people come and half were friends of people in our church. Sometimes the movie will be family oriented and sometimes it will not be. Stay tuned for what comes next!

4) "Adventure Saturday." This last month we had the Dwell Golf Tournament which was a great success. The idea here is that people in the Bay Area, and our international students in particular, like to go and do new things. I once read the quickest way to make friends in the Bay Area is to try new stuff. Well, thats the premise here.

How does this connect with our overall ministry? Our largest gathering is for Worship on Sunday morning. Our Gospel Groups meet during the week for fellowship, Bible Study, and prayer. But we have lacked more casual and inviting spaces to build relationships with people and share the love of Christ. We call these "Affinity Groups" that we believe will fuel mission and community both for our groups and for us individually. If Sunday morning worship is our "front door" and individual relationships and groups are a "back door," we hope these opportunities will provide a natural "side door" into the ministry of our church.

Are there other fun get-togethers or activities you want to see happen? You are more than welcome to get something going. These are ones that we thought we should not neglect and we hope it fosters deeper relationships both with each other and with Christ through our love for people.

Remember to keep checking out our calendar at!calendar/c1jx9

In Christ,

Pastor Chris

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Review of Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture

Recently, I have been binging on several different books about "how to do church." Many popular books give you a model to copy. For example, Sticky Church is very popular and essentially argues sermon based small groups is the solution for your ministry. I still think the exception in recent years is Tim Keller's Center Church which bridges the gap between theologically heavy books and practical models. My shift has been to read outside of the sort of "young, restless, and reformed crowd." Scot McKnight's blog is largely to blame for exposing me to voices I don't normally encounter much ( I think in general the questions I have are What is it that the church ought to always do no matter what? How can I be faithful and not fall into the temptations of wanting bigger, better, and more exposure in a celebrity culture?

First, I read Slow Church which basically tried to take the slow food movement as an analogy for church. It essentially argued for a holistic community that reflected the local terrior and was against cookie cutter models and "franchise church." Thats all good. I just felt the analogy was too stretched and they didn't make an argument that was theologically robust enough for me.

Because Slow Church was endorsed by the authors of Shrink and vice versa I did expect much. But it turns out Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture was a much better book. These books follow the clarion call of Eugene Peterson that what matters in ministry is faithfulness not success or effectiveness. (Keller like always does yes/no both/and middle way and says "fruitfulness" is the Biblical metaphor).

Shrink is highly critical of megachurch models that doesn't sufficiently challenge cultural idols. But instead embraces American ideals of pragmatism, techniques, and thinks success in the kingdom is equal to a bigger and better ministry. Suttle makes a great point that I often wonder about, something is wrong when the only Pastors who speak at conferences and have their books published have huge churches, as if all the pastors of smaller churches have nothing good to say. The book is divided into three parts. 1) How are attempts to be great undermine the call to be good.  2) How we need to have a robust theology of the church with stories and virtues not models, methods, and strategies. 3) What the essential virtues are.

What is good about this book is the great illustrations he gives tied to good biblical principles about how the church ought to be, what kind of people we ought to be, and not thinking some technique, model, or strategy is what will solve it while inside we remain no different than the world. He advocates church leaders should be vulnerable and should seek to cooperate with others not compete against them. We should have a culture of brokenness, patience, and fidelity. To all of these I say, yes, yes, and yes.

However, I do not think all models or strategies are all bad or that as an organization the church cannot think about how to better govern itself and equip its members to live more like Christ. The church is an organism and an organization. I don't think just because a church is big it is bad or that it has abandoned what it means to be the church. Suttle makes the point on several occasions to consider whether God is calling your church to shrink, to literally have less people. I don't see how that is any better than when I have heard megachurch pastors say you are not faithful if your church is not growing. Maybe your church is shrinking because you are a jerk and have poor leadership skills? I know this is not what Suttle is trying to say. I only point out to guard against either extremes.

In the end, Shrink is aiming at a prophetic wake up call to the church in America, to prune itself. To get back to the essence of life in Christ together, no matter the results numerically or otherwise. I agree to a large extent, but being a good steward involves not just good character but also good management. The church is God's household (1 Tim. 4:15) and this requires both Christian character and good management.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Our Summer Series - Kings: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This week we will start our new series on 1 & 2 Kings. This series will go through the summer and will hit the highlights of God's faithfulness through a declining kingdom. Our first message will come from 1 Kings 1-2 when David transfers the kingdom to Solomon.

The whole series will look at the good and bad side of many well known figures - Solomon, Elijah, Hezekiah, and some strange anonymous prophet known as the "man of God." Many of them have immense gifts, moments of great trust in God, and moments of failure, weakness and catastrophe. There are no "flat" characters here. They are complex ones, with only a few good ones, some bad ones, and few that are just plain ugly.

Throughout the series we will explore various idols in our lives, especially with an eye to leadership. Our Elders are reading through Andy Crouch's excellent book Playing God which is about the use and misuse of power. You can read it with us if you like. We also want to give people an opportunity to share stories of God's grace in their life to overcome our own idols like money, power, and sex. It is worth noting that the writer of Kings always has Deuteronomy (esp. 17:14-20) in the back of his mind; God's covenant with his people expressed in the law, and the consequences of being true to that covenant or not.

In our own day many wonder about the direction of our own nation and of the church. We long for a kingdom with a great king. But we should ask whether the kind of leader we want is one we need. And whether the king that we need, is the one we are willing to follow.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Frontline Prayer

We have been encouraging everyone to go a prayer walk in their community. People can go with their group, a friend or spouse, or by themselves.

It is important that we consistently seek the Lord through prayer, but often times we get stuck in a pattern of simply petitioning God for our felt needs and those of others. There is not anything wrong with it. But it can make you weary of prayer if 90% of your prayers are, "Lord please help _____." This is what C. John Miller calls maintenance prayer. It is often short and mechanical focused on physical needs of people in the church.

But Miller also notes there is "frontline" prayer: prayer that is expectant, hopeful, challenging, transforming, and a cry for the kingdom of God to come. Frontline prayer involves three things:
1) A request for grace to confess sins and to humble ourselves
2) A compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church and the reaching of the lost
3) A yearning to know God, to see his face, to glimpse his glory

There are remarkable Biblical examples of this. Famous passages of truly powerful prayer are Nehemiah 1; Exodus 33; Daniel 9; and Acts 4 (the Elders and I used Daniel 9 as a guide in a planning retreat we did last fall for this year). Throughout Christian history, moments when God brings a fresh movement of his people have come with "frontline" prayer. God is sovereign in his acts of grace but he rarely moves without moving people to pray, to see his kingdom come, to humbles ourselves and seek his face. I know my own prayer life needs to be more frontline focused and less routine maintenance.

I have become convinced in my studies on prayer in recent months that we need to do more "Frontline" prayer. This is why I am challenging everyone to go on a prayer walk and use the simple guide we have available in our lobby.

Why Prayer walking? It gets you out of the routine. As Christians we ought not to live as though there is no connection between the spiritual and physical. Therefore Christians, and missionaries especially, throughout history have walked through towns, villages, cities, and bare soil asking God to bring conviction of sin, compassion for people, to see his kingdom expand and to see his face.

So get out, walk around, take a little time to see your neighborhood and pray for your neighbors. Pray for things you notice. Pray God would move our hearts and create opportunities to share the love of Christ with people in word and deed. Pray with expectant hearts that God would bring a fresh wind of his grace.

Pastor Chris

*The information on frontline prayer here has been taken in part from Tim Keller, Center Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), p. 73.