“George Washington: A Life” by Ron Chernow [REVIEW]


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Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
2010, Penguin Books
Kindle / Paperback

Along with so many of you, I have spent the past year-and-a-half poring over the stories of our Founding Fathers in response to the musical Hamilton. I admit it: I know every song, every lyric, and I’ve been fascinated by the subtle nuances and references to historical details behind the lyrics. Complicating matters, I was steeped in these Wikipedia pages and (the amazingly comprehensive) Genius lyrics annotations all while there was a heated Presidential campaign going on.

All these factors came together to give me a new life-goal: to read a major biography on every President of the United States. And so I picked up my copy of Ron Chernow’s fantastic book Washington: A Life (for Hamilton fans, you may recognize Chernow as the author of the book on which the musical is based).

Appropriately, I finished the book this past Monday, President’s Day (previously celebrated as Washington’s Birthday). It’s the longest book I’ve ever read (weighing in at 905 small print pages), but easily one of the most enjoyable. Continue reading

“Darkest Before the Dawn” [a sermon]


church-philly-bw-cross-market-eastDuring the Advent and Christmas season, my church did a sermon series going through the key texts of Handel’s Messiah.

I got to preach during that series and only recently realized I never posted it here.

I’m beginning to see that light and darkness are constant themes through my preaching, and in this sermon, those themes are explicitly in the text. God’s people have returned from exile to their homeland, but it still hurts. Things aren’t the way they remembered, and they keep encountering difficulties and old temptations at every turn.

And so God acknowledged the darkness, but promises light. Is that enough, though? How do we not just sit back and say, “yeah, yeah yeah–I’ve heard this all before” and then continue on steeped in our cynicism? In this sermon (as with others I’ve preached), I try to press more deeply into the darkness to see what God might say. The text is Isaiah 60.1-3, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here are my notes for your perusal. Continue reading

Christian Diversity & Charity in a Contentious Election Year


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Regardless of one’s personal political beliefs, it’s hard to deny that this particular election season is one of the most brutal in decades. On both sides of the aisle, a harsher edge has accompanied our political discourse. This has been exacerbated by people retreating further and further to the safety of their own “sides” in these uncertain times, leading to pockets of like-minded people who rarely interact with those with whom they disagree.

And yet, the good news is that there is still one institution in society whose very nature draws people together from a diversity of views, classes, opinions, and income brackets: the Christian Church. Christians do this imperfectly, for sure, and many of our churches are marked by sharp divisions and high uniformity on issues secondary to the essentials of our faith; yet the Christian Church, throughout history, has been able to contain within itself a huge diversity of views, opinions, cultures, and societal structures, all while maintaining its essential integrity.

This puts Christians in a bind, though, when studying Scripture in a diverse community and in a tense political time. As Christians, we want the Bible to inform our political beliefs, but we also want to be in unity with other believers around us. As the Bible shapes us and we come to our own beliefs on political issues, how do we do so in a way that leads to charity and a deeper knowledge of God through the Scriptures?

I think we can chart a way forward by looking at the diversity of ways the Scriptures interact with the politics of God’s people, the politics at the time the Bible was actually written, and by focusing on the central point of Christian teaching: Jesus. Continue reading

November Book Club: All Your Questions on Baptism, Answered


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The Promise of Baptism: An Introduction to Baptism in Scripture & the Reformed Tradition
by James Brownson

Our discussion on Calvinism this past Sunday was really great. Our exploration of Reformed Theology continues, however.

For November, in my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, we’re going to be looking at that significant distinctive of Reformed thought: Baptism. And to wander into this potential minefield, we’re going to follow an amazing guide, Dr. James Brownson in his incredibly helpful book, The Promise of Baptism.

Seriously, this book is amazing.  It covers everything in relation to baptism. It starts with the big picture and starts to zoom in into specific biblical, historical, theological, and practical questions. Every chapter is built around a question. And this book goes through every question you may have had about baptism, and a bunch you may have never had. Some of the chapter topics:

  • Should infants be baptized?
  • Sprinkling or Immersing?
  • Can someone be saved without being baptized? What about baptized without being saved?
  • What happens to baptized infants who die before they can give a profession of faith?
  • What about baptized people that leave the faith?
  • Is “Re-Baptism” allowed?
  • Is “dedication” an appropriate substitute for infant baptism?
  • Does it need to be the parents who offer an infant to baptism, or can grandparents or close family friends?

There are 30 such chapters, so I’m only barely scratching the surface. Really, this is a great book. And it’s very charitable, meaning it doesn’t demonize any side. It clings to Scripture and recognizes there are different legitimate opinions on many of these issues. It does argue for infant baptism, but it’s topics are much bigger than that, so even if you don’t leave convinced on that point, you will have learned so much more about what the Bible and the Church tradition have to say about the essential sacrament of the Christian Church.

NOTE: Because the last Sunday of the month falls right after Thanksgiving, our discussion will be on the first Sunday of December, the 4th, at 5:30pm.

As usual, even if you don’t live in Philadelphia, feel free to join us in reading the book. I’ll try and blog about it through the month. You can use this blog or the Facebook page to offer your thoughts, questions, critiques, and concerns. Happy reading!

So pick up the book, read it, keep up with the discussion, and join us on December 4th at 5:30pm at Liberti Church.


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Philly Peeps: Join us for our Calvinism discussion!


calvinism
This month, as part of my church’s Theology Book Club, we’ve been reading Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport in order to spur a broader discussion of Calvinism and Reformed Theology. Tomorrow, Sunday 10/30, we’ll be gathering in person in Center City Philadelphia to have a discussion on this controversial topic.  RSVP at the Facebook page.

You do not have to have read the book. Just show up.

We’ll have some wine and some snacks, but feel free to ring whatever you like. Hopefully, I’ll see you tomorrow at Liberti Church, 17th & Sansom in Rittenhouse.


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October Book Club: Un-Crazy Calvinism, with Richard Mouw


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Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport
by Richard Mouw

For my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, we’ve been spending the Fall exploring some of the distinctive beliefs of Reformed Theology.

Well, if there’s any set of ideas Reformed Theology is most known for (and controversially so), it is surely that cluster of doctrines known collectively as “Calvinism”. That’s what we’re exploring this month through Richard Mouw’s amazing book, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport.

To be clear, “Reformed Theology” is a lot bigger than Calvinism. You can agree with Calvinistic thought and not be Reformed, and you can have a huge range of opinions on Calvinist doctrines while still being Reformed. And yet, it is so connected to the thought of my church’s tradition that it deserves a deep dive.
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“One Race, Different Ethnicities” [spoken word]


This is a beautiful piece by a friend of mine, Aisha Monique, from my previous church. She is a wonderful spoken word artist who wrote and performed this a couple of months ago as a way of prophetically processing the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, and hwo they fit into the broader narrative of the Black experience in America. I recently found myself watching it again, and I thought I would share.

Like the biblical book of Lamentations, this is a raw cry from the heart wrapped within the rhythm and boundedness of poetry. So grab some coffee and a quiet place and watch this. Let it sink in and sit with it. And most importantly, especially if you are part of the majority culture, just listen.

“The End & The Beginning”: On Houses, Wise & Foolish [sermon]


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A couple of weeks ago, I got to finish up our church’s series going through the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon was such an experience to prepare and give. For one, this was my first time ever preaching two weeks in a row (if your pastor does this regularly, give him or her a hug for me–it’s hard!)

Second, this was my firs time preaching on a text I previously preached on. This text was the same as my first ever “real” sermon. It was the oddest experience diving back into this text and it feeling so new–as if I’d never read or studied it previously.

And lastly, this is the shortest set of verses I’ve ever been able to preach on–5 verses! This gave me the freedom to slow down, and experiment with how I wanted to structure this and go about writing the sermon.

This sermon tries to serve both as a summary of the entire Sermon on the Mount as well as a conclusion and call to action for those of us who have sat under it all Summer. If that piques your interest, feel free to listen to or read the sermon below. The text is Matthew 7:24-29. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

September Book Club: What IS Reformed Theology, anyway?


luther-95theses-humor-memeSeptember’s Books
(just pick 1)

Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims by Daniel Hyde

Reformed Theology by R. Michael Allen

One thing I appreciate about my church is that we don’t wear our labels on our sleeve. That does mean, however, that a lot of people can go to our church for quite a while and not know that there is a very real theological ethos woven into everything we do.

We belong to the oldest American denomination–the Reformed Church in America–which ascribes to a theological tradition called “Reformed Theology”. And because many, many people in our church likely have little idea of what that especially means within the broader Christian family, we’ll be spending this Fall exploring these ideas in our monthly Theology Book Club.

So how are we going to do this? Well, I really struggled with this one, because though Reformed Theology has some general contours, there really is quite a bit of diversity and flexibility within that definition of being “Reformed”. In looking for a good book, the problem I kept finding was that most books on this topic tend to define Reformed Theology very narrowly and very dogmatically. I don’t think this is helpful.
Continue reading

“Do Unto Others”: The Golden Rule of God’s Kingdom [a sermon]


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As part of my church’s series on The Sermon on the Mount, I got to preach this past week on the Golden Rule, as well as Jesus’ call to action at the end of the Sermon.

For many of us, when exploring Christian faith, what we’re really looking for is what makes Christianity distinctive. What does it have to say that any other perspective on existence doesn’t—or can’t? I can imagine many people see Jesus offer the Golden Rule and think that he is acting as just one more ethical teacher repeating this ethical principle that most anyone who wants to be a nice person knows about. And it’s true: much of what Jesus says is, technically, not new in human history.

But here’s the trouble: as a human race, we’ve had a lot of practice with the Golden Rule. It’s in us. It’s in our laws. It’s in our societies. It’s in our intuitions that guide and shape how we move through the world. It shapes our sense of justice and morality. And yet we still fail it every day. We’ve had so much practice legislating it, commanding it, manipulating it, teaching it, and hoping for it. And yet it is not the predominant reality in our world or relationships.

That’s why when Jesus comes on the scene, it’s not enough for him to simply repeat the same old teachings in the same old ways. We need more than that if we have any hope for living his vision out. And in this sermon I argue that what Jesus offers here is an entirely new framing and context of the Golden Rule. What Jesus offers here is so much more than a simple ethical maxim. It’s not even Ethics at all! Further, if we see Jesus as just one more religious authority trying to tell people how to act, then we’ve profoundly missed Jesus’ point and what he’s trying to offer us here.

So feel free to listen to or read the sermon, and let me know what you think. The sermon text is Matthew 7:12-23. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

August Book Club on Christianity & Race: “Divided by Faith” by Emerson & Smith


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Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion & the Problem of Race in America
by Michael Emerson & Christian Smith

Last night’s book discussion went really well, and it makes me even more excited for this month’s meeting.

For my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, I’m excited to have us read an especially timely and important book, Divided by Faith by sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith. The opening lines of the Preface summarize their purpose beautifully:

To learn more about American life, this book examines the role of white evangelicalism in black-white relations. Our argument is that evangelicals desire to end racial division and inequality, and attempt to think and act accordingly. But, in the process, they likely do more to perpetuate the racial divide than they do to tear it down.

In America, we have a problem with race. White Christians, I think, genuinely act in good faith to play a positive role in race relations in America. And yet, they often end up unintentionally exacerbating some of the broader cultural problems that feed into racial injustice.
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Is the Democratic Party the New Home for Conservatives?


philly-city-hall-flagI think I found the bright side to Donald Trump. This election has left Conservatism as the only political philosophy not really represented. Even the Bernie Bros have a lot of their biggest concerns represented in the newly minted Democratic Party platform. But real Conservatives? Who speaks for them?

I (and others) am starting to think it’s the Democratic Party.

People keep talking about how this Donald Trump candidacy is reshuffling traditional party allegiances into  a never-before-seen arrangement. And yet, watching the Democratic National Convention speeches last night from Tim Kaine, Joe Biden, and especially Barack Obama, it looks like a reemergence of the blue collar, Southern Democrat.

Maybe, rather than a reshuffling, there is a course correction: a return to politics as it was prior to Nixon, Goldwater, and Johnson. Perhaps (dare I say?) this is actually a moment for normalization of American politics?
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Philly TONIGHT: Open Sanctuary Time for Reflection & Prayer


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We live in a time and place that is happy to tell us all the things we need to do to be the kinds of people we want to be. And churches are good at telling us more things to do and occupy our time with in order to live in greater closeness with God.

But there are some parts of being human and knowing God that don’t involve doing more, but rather stopping and doing less.

At my church, over the summer, we want to try and create space where people can come and just stop; to experience silence, reflection, prayer, meditation, and a little guidance in those things. This is a spiritual muscle we don’t exercise much, but it’s an essential one to work out if we are to become more human and know God more deeply.

So starting tonight, from 6:30-8pm and every Thursday in July and August, we’ll be having an open, unstructured time for prayer, reflection, contemplation, journaling, and meditation.

A few times I’ll get up and read some Scripture, but outside of that, it’s a space people are free to come and go, lie down, walk around, sit on the floor, or whatever they need to connect with themselves and connect with God. No matter your church home, religious tradition, or lack of belief, feel free to use this space in whatever way you need.

So feel free join us at 17th and Sansom St in Center City Philadelphia between 6:30 and 8, and each subsequent Thursday.

A Prayer Service of Lament for Race & Injustice


job-silohetteLast week I led a prayer service of lament at my church for the racial injustice and violence experienced in our country. I put together the below order for the prayer service and it ended up being a helpful expression for us. I wanted to share this with anyone else interested in using it in their own contexts.

Another benefit of this service is that the contemporary prayers below are not mine or any other white males, but were written by women of color and slightly modified for our context. I hope this acts as a helpful outlet to give voice to our hearts as brothers and sisters.

[Prayer Guide: pdf/docx ; Leader’s Guide: pdf/docx]

Preparation

Encourage other voices that are not typically heard at your church to read the Scripture sections. In the times of silence, encourage open prayer from those sitting in the pews. Allow space for up to 5-10 minutes of silence, and be sure to let people know beforehand to expect such long silence.

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