Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"Road Trip" Sermon #1 - The Great Commission

This is the first message in my "Road Trip" series at St. Stephen's Lutheran Church.

Title: "The Great Commission"

Summary: (to be added)

SlidesClick here to view slides in a new window.


"Road Trip" Sermon #2 - Go and Make Disciples - What Does This Mean?

Message #2 in my "Road Trip" series at St. Stephen's Lutheran Church.

Title: "Go and Make Disciples - What Does This Mean?""

Summary: (to be added)

SlidesClick here to view slides in a new window.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Special Speaker Announcement for the Unfinished Business Conference

I am very excited to announce another speaker confirmed for the conference. But I can't tell you who it is.
I was introduced recently to a woman who is a seminary student here in town. She was raised as an atheist in northern China up until the age of 12 when her mother became a believer. She herself came to faith later, and has attended House Church in China for many years. House churches are illegal in China, where only the state-authorized church bodies are allowed to gather openly. So to avoid putting friends and family at risk back in China I won't use her name or give her hometown online.
We will be greatly privileged to have her share her perspective with us at the conference!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Gina Mueller to Speak at Unfinished Business Conference

I'm beginning to get confirmations from the people who will be speakers at the Unfinished Business conference, and I'm delighted to introduce you to Gina Mueller. Gina will be one of our panelists, looking at the pros, cons and unanswered questions around Luther's house church proposal. Here's her bio:
"Gina Mueller is a national leader with 3dmovements. She trains leaders and teams how to create a culture of discipleship that results in a mobilized church. As a practitioner, she’s done the hard work of going first. Gina has led teams and served in various contexts - shifting the culture of a mega church as well as church planting. She is passionate about awakening the church to live into her sentness by activating the missional creativity of ordinary people. Gina has been building and multiplying extended families on mission called Missional Communities for almost 10 years. Gina loves hanging with her neighbors, her local coffee shop, and pizza night with her family!"
You can learn more about Gina's work with the 3dm discipling movement here. I have been working with 3dm materials and coaches for 5 years and HIGHLY recommend them!
Registration for the conference is now open. Come and be a part of the conversation!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Conference Announced! "Unfinished Business: Bringing the Church Home"

I'm very excited to announce a conference that I will be hosting in November to dig into Luther's proposal for house churches! (TLDR folks can get straight to the registration page here.)

It was nearly 10 years ago that I first posted on this blog the little-known proposal that Luther wrote, in which he described lay-led, home-based faith communities. Since then it's never been far from my mind.

Now it's time to start a conversation and see what emerges from that. Like when Luther posted the 95 Theses expecting to start an academic debate and things kinda took on a life of their own. Just a little bit.  ;)  So here's the lowdown:

Date: Saturday, November 18th
Time: 9am - 2pm
Location: St. Stephen's Lutheran Church
                 West St. Paul, MN
Cost: $10 (includes lunch)

Registration Page
Facebook Page

What to expect:

We'll set the table with some information, first by looking at the text of Luther's proposal and any historical attempts to put it into practice. Then we'll have a quick fly-by of contemporary groups that are exploring ways to be church that are similar to Luther's proposal. With that as a starting point, the main focus of the conference will be working together to assess the pros and cons of this approach, and the arguments for and against putting it into practice.

The conference is open to the public. It will be of particular interest to people who are looking for renewal in the Church, and for those who have become frustrated or disillusioned by the challenges of the "standard model" for congregational life, with it's dependence on property, programs, professionals and presentational worship. (These people are often referred to as the "Dones," as they are "done with church, but not with faith." For more on them see my posts here and here.)

When the conference is over, I  will have print materials, summaries of conversations, and no doubt video of some sessions/presentations that I will be making available. If you would like to be notified when these materials are available, just fill out the form below and I will keep you in the loop.

Hope to see you there, and please, SPREAD THE WORD!!!


Mailing list for resource updates:

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Universal Basic Income and The Workers in the Vineyard

Here's an interesting reflection on theology, justice and economics for you...
A friend just posted a Buckminster Fuller quote that spoke to Universal Basic Income (UBI), and since I had been percolating on last Sunday's gospel text it seems I was ripe for recognizing a connection that had eluded me until now.
That parable perfectly describes a UBI scenario. Workers are paid the same regardless of how long they work, which is at the crux of why the parable is an offense to many. But *relative* compensation is not what it's speaking to. Rather it's speaking to *minimal justice.* That can be seen in two places:
First, they payment is "a days wages" which represents the amount needed for basic life for a family, maybe even more. That interpretation is consonant with what Jesus invited us to ask for in The Lord's Prayer, i.e. "our *daily* bread."
Second, it's notable that when the owner hires people at later hours of the day he says that he will pay them "whatever is right." Is it *right* to pay the same for less work? Not in terms of capitalistic wage equity. So in what sense *would* it be "right?" In the sense of UBI, in which it is socially and morally *right* to ensure that everyone has *enough* to live on (again, "daily bread.")
You could also note that this reading does not in fact *contradict* a capitalist ethic & system completely. Yes, it established a "floor" below which no one should have to fall. But it also allows for an Owner who is no doubt better off, financially, than the workers in his vineyard. This is the same sentiment as we find in 2 Cor. 8:15 where we read that "“The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”"
So, there's that.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Birth Defects and the "Image of God"

Thought I'd share a little theological musing with you this morning.

In a clergy group I belong to, a member asked; "God creates us and we are made in the image of God, what are some good responses to someone who questions this because they were born with severe handicaps/illness, etc.?"

Here's the reply I offered.

To me, being created in the "image of God" means that humans have, in the essence of what they are, a similarity to God in the essence of what God is. I understand the essence of God as being "persons-in-relationship" (with all the good Trinitarian stuff that evokes), and so I see the essence of being human is in our design to also be persons-in-relationship. From that perspective, the condition of one's physical body isn't that much related to how one bears the image of God.

As regards congenital handicaps etc., I see that as simply an aspect of the brokenness of creation which leads to some of us being born with bodies that are far from what God intended in the original design for humans. In my own case for example, I was born with propensities that have shown up over the years as both depression and diabetes. That's a reflection of the uniqueness of my personal brokenness.

Monday, August 28, 2017

NonRandom Acts of Kingdom-Bringing Kindness

Today I just want to lift up a really important post from my friend Ry Edwards. He tells the most amazing story of how "routine" contacts in everyday life with service people can be so important. I absolutely believe this is part of what it looks like to see the prayer "Your Kingdom come!" answered in people's lives.

Please, take a few minutes and read his story.

And for my part, I just want to add that when I think of the kind of faith community I long to see and hope to foster, it's one where people get together every week to eat, laugh, pray, play, and tell each other stories like this from their own lives so that we all grow to live like this more and more.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The "Unchurching" Comic Book and the Unfinished Business of the Reformation

Friends - I've been mulling recently about what I consider to be the "unfinished business" of the Reformation as we are in the midst of the 500th anniversary of all that getting going. To me, the unfinished business is the empowerment of the "laity," which is the churchy word for "everyone who's not a clergyperson."

Luther himself proposed a bold move for that, but never launched it, and I've written about that on this blog before. That may be the most important post on this blog, come to think of it.

In the mean time, I want to lift up for you the work of Richard Jacbson who's written a really engaging book called "Unchurching: Christianity without Churchianity." There's a Facebook group and podcast around that now, and the latest incarnation is a comic book version that the focus of a Kickstarter campaign featured below.

I encourage you to take a look, and consider supporting this work! I for one believe it is past time for us to be asking better questions and launching bolder experiments in how we follow Jesus and bless the world. I salute Richard for being a part of that work.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Interview with the Blogger

My friend Ry Edwards just posted an interview he did with me! It's 20 minutes and touches on why I believe in God, my favorite metaphor for understanding what it means to be human, and a Developers Conference I'm presenting at coming up in August. I've written about The Pipe metaphor on this blog before but I think this video gives a better introduction. Take a look and let me know what you think!

Here are some links you may want to check out as well:

Gofundme page for my conference expenses:

The website for 3dm:

My blog of occasional posts over the last 10+ years:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Little Bit of Kingdom Come

People sometimes think that God *causes* bad things to happen in order to bring other good things out of it. Most of us, I think, have a problem with that as an "ends justify the means" kind of thing. But among Christians I think it gets currency from various directions.
  • Some people read Romans 8:28 in that way, as if it said "we know that God is the cause of everything and no matter how awful it seems it's actually good because of the good that comes out of it."
  • Our tendency to recite the Lord's Prayer as "Thy will be done, (hard stop) on Earth as it is in heaven" as opposed to "Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in heaven" plays into a kind of resignation in the face of tragedy rather than an appeal for God's *good* will to actually be realized on Earth.
  • Plus, there's that sense that if God is "omnipotent" then it would seem that everything that does happen is ultimately because God wants it that way.
  • The kicker is the story in John 9 where most translations literally say God caused a man to be born blind in order to heal him later. (I think Eugene Peterson gets it right in his The Message version.)
I don't buy any of that stuff, but it's out there and feeds into the notion that God works evil to obtain good and we just have to deal with it.
At any rate, what I do believe is that in every situation - regardless of how it came about - God is present and is an active force to bring good forward.
And here is a very beautiful and touching example of what that can look like.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Burnt Over District - video reflection

This is a seasonal reflection I created on video a couple years ago. The music is "The Burnt Over District" by Hem. I I slowed it down somewhat for time and effect.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Done With Church but Not With Faith? You're Not Alone.

There's a large and growing group of people who have left traditional church life (buildings, budgets, programs and pastors) but are decidedly not walking away from their faith in Jesus. Or from their desire to follow him and bless the world. Or from their hunger to be in community with others. In fact, many of them have "left the church in order to save their faith."

Sociologist Josh Packard has coined the term "the Dones" to describe this group in his book Church Refugees. He finds the term "refugees" particularly apt because it speaks about people who didn't really want to "leave home" but felt they had no other choice and often flee out of a sense of self-preservation.

I highly recommend the book. Below is my own summary, drawn largely from the book, about who the Dones are. If you would like to download a copy you can find it here.

Key Research Findings on the Dones
Timothy Thompson, 4.4.17,

Unless otherwise noted, observations presented here are from Packard and Hope, Church Refugees, (Group Publishing, 2015); Joshua Packard, Exodus of the Religious Dones: Research Reveals the Size, Makeup, and Motivations of the Formerly Churched Population (Group Publishing 2015); and “Meet the ‘Dones”” by Joshua Packard (Christianity Today,

1.       They were highly active in their churches.  Dones are not disgruntled consumerist Christians whose preferences were not met, or controllers who stormed off in a huff when they couldn’t get their way. Neither are they marginal members who drifted away over time.  Rather, they were typically very active and highly committed members in their congregations, frequently having served in leadership roles.

2.       They didn’t want to leave. Dones often worked for years to reform the church from within and address the challenges they were encountering.  This is a key insight, and why Packard refers to them as “Church Refugees,” evoking the plight of people who desperately wanted to stay “home” yet felt compelled to leave as an act of self-preservation, suffering a deep sense of loss as a result.  One person interviewed described it this way; “At first it was just survival, man. Spiritual survival. We had to get out.”

3.       They felt stifled by church structure. A key factor in why the Dones left is not that the church was flawed, which they expect to be true for humans and their institutions, but that the structures in place prevented them from helping to address the flaws. “I don’t think the institutional church is filled with bad people. I think the church in America is an inherently flawed structure that compels people to make poor decisions” said one person interviewed. This distinction between the structures of the institution as opposed to the people and the faith itself is what is expressed by the saying; “They are done with the church but not with their faith.”

4.       There were four key desires that they found frustrated by life in the conventional church:
a.       They wanted community in the form of an extended spiritual family of care with shared life and substantial intimacy.
b.      They wanted to be able to affect the life of the church.
c.       They wanted spiritual conversation that invited exploration rather than doctrinal teaching that squelched it.
d.      They wanted meaningful engagement with the world.

The Dones are a large and growing group. Barna and Kinneman (Churchless, Tyndale Momentum, 2014) argue that the “dechurched” comprise about 33% of the American population and are the fastest growing segment as well. Packard estimates that about half of the unchurched - roughly 30.5 Million people - would qualify as Dones, no longer attending church services but retaining their faith in God and Christian identity. An additional 7 Million still attending church report that they are “on their way out the door” as Almost Dones.  Beyond the sheer size of the group, it should be stressed that the impact of these people leaving congregational life is greatly multiplied by the fact that Dones tend to come from among the most active and committed members in the church.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Illumination Conflict Sermon

Conflict in the community?
Family bonds strained?
Division among religious leaders?
People disputing the facts?
Personal attacks on the sources?
Beliefs impervious to evidence?

I had the opportunity to preach at St. Stephen's Lutheran Church yesterday and those are some of the themes I found playing out in the story of the man born blind in John 9. And amidst all that furor, there's a story of a man who receives his sight, finds his voice and comes to faith as well.

If you're interested in hearing the sermon, I've provided the audio for you below.

It's a call to action in challenging times with a word of comfort to take along with you.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Scripture as Song, with Sampling

Thinking about different ways we use and value stories this morning especially stories in Scripture:

The stories themselves have value and that’s one reason why we learn them. Stories in Scripture; history of the Church; stories from ancestors, parents, friends and very much so stories from our own lives.  

Stories also have value as a kind of lexicon, a dictionary of images, ideas, themes, emotions etc. that are able to catch our attention and strike theological, experiential and emotional chords. 

In the first, we are often looking for what God said to people at the time, which may also apply to us today. In the second, we are listening for what God is saying now. The current word may be the same, similar, or quite different from what we find in the original setting. (And students of Scripture will readily point out how written Scripture itself sometimes re-purposes things from earlier times to make a point that may be VERY different from the original sense. A stunning example of this can be seen where Paul re-purposes the foundational Jewish story of Isaac and Ishmael in such a way as to reverse the original meaning, presenting all the Law-abiding Jews as children of Hagar rather than Sarah.  See Galatians 4.)

It’s an odd analogy, I think, but works well to compare this to the way that contemporary musicians use sampling. Jesus "samples" Scripture to sing us new tunes today along with the old ones. (By "sampling" here I'm thinking about
occasions like having an image of Scripture come to mind in conversation or during private devotions... these may be times when we're hearing the Lord speak in the present moment, catching our attention with the familiarity of the "sample.")

Scripture as song – there’s more that could be done with that. We value the original compositions very highly. The “old time” versions often have special, deep emotional resonance (e.g. The Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23 from the KJV). But old songs can often find new richness with a different arrangement, or worked into a medley. From there It’s a short step to incorporating just a verse, refrain or chorus as a counterpoint, and from there to sampling to refer to a theme.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 Devos in Review

For many years I've used a simple journaling format with my daily devotions: writing down a passage or verse of Scripture; noting what it is in that reading that catches my attention; writing down how it applies to me that day, and writing a short prayer. The whole thing is usually about half a page long. It goes by the acronym SOAP for Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. (If you'd like to learn more about it, check out this post.)
I also make an index as I go of the scripture passages I've written about with several keywords that point to the theme of the reflection. One fun side-benefit is that at the end of the year I can collect all of the keywords and display them in a Wordle  where the most commonly used words show us in larger font size. The three images attached show what my devotional keywords were in 2015. The first one below uses all the words, the second just the 20 most common words, and the one above has the top 5 words by frequency.
(You'll notice that my most common keyword this year was "pipe." No, I've not been moonlighting as a plumber, "pipe" is just my personal shorthand for a core metaphor for faith and life. Briefly: to be human is to be like an L-shaped pipe, connected to God at the top, with love, joy, peace, forgiveness and all good things flowing *down* into us from God and *out* from us to bless our neighbors.)
I wanted to share this with you to encourage you in your own devotional life. (New Years... fresh starts... resolutions and all that.) First of all, of course, just to spend some intentional time each day with the Lord. And in addition, I highly recommend some kind of writing practice that lets you see your faith life over time and find good words again at a later date - for yourself or for others!
And while you're at it... and annual spiritual "year in review" is a pretty good practice too.


All keywords:
Top 20:

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Message 100 - Book Review

I was very pleased to receive a copy of The Message 100 by Eugene Peterson for review a while back.  I'm happy to recommend it, first and foremost because The Message version itself is hugely beneficial for reading, and second because the new arrangement of the books of the Bible that you find in The Message 100 has some valuable features as well.

A quick word about the translation itself. I like to refer to Peterson's excellent work as a "rendering" of scripture. Though based on the original language manuscripts, Peterson allows more freedom in bringing it into English than one would use in a formal translation. His rendering is at least a paraphrase, and at times makes moves that I would have to call interpretations. But the vitality and vibrancy of his version is so helpful in "hearing" scripture that I am always enthusiastic to recommend it to people for general reading and as a companion for formal Bible study. Reading The Message has improved my "scholarly" understanding of scripture, but more importantly, helped the Lord shape my heart in wonderful ways.

This new version makes two significant changes in how a reading Bible is organized. First, it divides the text into 100 readings. That simple change gives you an encouragement to read the whole Bible (who doesn't want to get to 100?) while at the same time avoiding the problems associated with so many other "read through the Bible" plans which is simply this: failure. I don't know how many times have I gotten behind in some daily reading plan and faced the decision to either skip a batch of readings and "press reset" to (FAIL!) or binge-read as fast as possible in order to "catch up" (faking success = FAIL!)  The 100 version invites you to keep at it and take your time. It's a grace goal... one that comes with a finish line but without a deadline.  How cool is that?

The second change in the 100 version is more significant, and more subtle.  In many places, the books of the Bible have been re-ordered.

Finally, Acts follows Luke as the sequel it was written to be! But that's just the start...

Anyone who's ever tried to read the Bible "cover to cover" has run into the Kings-Chronicles issue. You work your way through 1st and 2nd Kings and then here comes 1st and 2nd Chronicles going back over the same territory you just finished. It's confusing and a bit frustrating to feel like you are "re-reading" all that stuff, even if you are aware of the significant differences between Kings and Chronicles.  Some reading plans deal with this by interweaving the two tellings, and that helps especially if you read the various Prophets along the same timeline as well. (Wayne Cordeiro does an excellent job of this in his Life Journal materials.) In The Message 100, Peterson leads you through Kings first, and then introduces Chronicles after you've gone through much of the prophetic literature and spent time in Exile with Daniel. That brings you to the point in the story when the Chronicles were written as a way to re-engage the people's history in a new situation. That one change actually gave me a new appreciation for the first eight, tedious, chapters of genealogy in Chronicles. (Actually, not so much a "new" appreciation as a "first ever" one.) After all they've been through and the ruin they brought on themselves as a people, the listing of ancestors up to the present survivors returning from exile has a way of saying "... and we are still here!  After all this, all these generations, we are still here!"  The placing of Chronicles helped me to catch that.

Another notable re-ordering is placing the Gospel of John in a final section along with the letters of John and Revelation. With the similarity of voice and vision in these books, it's intriguing to think about the way that reading them together will cast light on each of them.

I'm also intrigued by the decision to put Job in between Genesis and Exodus as part of the section on "Beginnings." No explanation is offered, but to me it helps to suggest a similarity in genre of the two books as something different from what we moderns think of as "history."  And I think it also works as a way of "setting the stage" for the story of Scripture as both Genesis and Job get us thinking about the challenge we face in the human condition.

Each of the 100 readings has an introduction written by Peterson.  They are very helpful in keeping you oriented towards what's going on and what the readings are pointing towards. Especially here in these introductions can you hear the voice of Peterson the pastor, and some of the material is even drawn from his sermons. Another great gift he offers us.

The one thing I wish for that's not in the book is some commentary on his decisions for re-ordering the books of the Bible. But aside from that it's another wonderful piece of work from a man who has made a great contribution to the faith and life of many people, myself included.