Against a Shithole Theology


View of Volcan de Agua from the center of Antigua, Guatemala- one of my most favorite views in the world!

In the the 1st chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus is calling the first disciples. When Jesus called Phillip, from Peter and Andrew’s hometown, he seems pretty excited. So excited that he goes and finds Nathanael and tells him: “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael was not very impressed at the news. He responded to Phillip saying:

“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
(John 1:46)

Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Nazareth is a small town that was never mentioned in the Old Testament. It was the home of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. But there was nothing special about Nazareth. It was near trade routes, but not particularly close enough to bring any real wealth. In Acts 24:5, followers of Jesus are called “Nazarenes” in what sounds like a derisive way.

Let’s put Nathanael’s question into our 2018 context:  “Can anything good come out of a shithole like Nazareth?”

Of course, this is a similar to what President Trump recently said when he wondered why we’d accept more immigrants from “shithole” countries like El Salvador, Haiti, and countries on the continent of Africa- instead prefering immigrants from a place such as Norway. The racism in the comment isn’t even subtle. Trump would rather have immigrants from a predominantly white country such as Norway than the predominantly black and Latino/a countries of El Salvador, Haiti, and the nations of Africa.

When we start calling nations, cities, and towns shitholes- we show our hand that we believe that the only thing that can come from that nation, city, or town is shit. This sort of thinking is decided not Christian. It is racist. There can be no room in the heart of a believer to look at people and think of them this way.

As followers of Christ, we must speak against language, attitudes, and ideals that denigrates other human beings. The Bible is clear that all people are “made in the image of God.” Because we are made in God’s image, each person has sacred worth. We are not any better (or any worse) than our neighbor because of where we live, whether we are living in poverty or wealth, whether our skin is dark or pale, whether we are male or female. In the eyes of God, we are loved and have sacred value. As followers of God, we are too see all people the way that God sees them and treat them accordingly.

Andrea and I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to some places that look much different than our home in the States: Andrea has spent time in Kathmandu, Nepal and Kolkata, India working among the poorest of the poor. We’ve been to Brazil, Paraguay, Guatemala, and China. We’ve been among the poorest people and those who would be considered more wealthy. One thing that we have seen in every place that we go is the beauty of the people and the divine image that is etched in each life. We have experienced the Church in these countries and seen the heart of God beating in each place. Even those who lived in a poverty that I could never imagine radiated the presence and love of God in their contentment, their prayers, and their faith.

So what good can come out of a Nazareth? Jesus, the Son of God.

What good can come out of a like Haiti? El Salvador? Nations of Africa? It would take a long time to list the accomplishments and the good that has come from those places- as well as beauty of the people in each of these communities. The growth that we see in the Church (globally) is happening in places like Africa, and in the Global South (including places like Central and South America). One day, THEY will be leading the singing around the throne of God. I look forward to joining them there.

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2017 Best Books List

I realize that most of these list get done at the end of the year- but I’m writing on New Year’s Day. So as 2018 begins I’ll look back on my favorite books of the year.

Biggest Impact Books of the Year


  1. The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Fleming Rutledge)- I’m gonna be honest. I’m not finished with this. It’s over 600 pages and it’s excellent. I already feel the need to reread it so I can continue to soak up all the Rutledge proposes.
  2. Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal (Gordon T. Smith)- Instead of being Evangelical, sacramental or Pentecostal, Smith encourages church leaders to embrace all three positions because they are intrinsically tied to each other.
  3. A Fellowship of Differents (Scot McKnight)- McKnight challenges reader to reflect the diversity of the Kingdom of God in our day-to-day living and in our churches/ministries. This is especially important in a year where we are tempted to live in echo-chambers and hold polarizing opinions.
  4. Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance) A memoir about Vance’s hillbilly heritage, the obstacles he and his family faced as they moved out of the hills of Appalachia, and insight on some of our social and political situations today.

Honorable Mention: The Rise of Theological Liberalism and the Decline of American Methodism (James Heidinger)- An excellent look at the Methodist movement in America and the impact of Theological liberalism that all denominations faced in the early 1900’s- and how it continues to impact the church today.

Most Fun Books to Read


  1. Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)- This book was fun. The 80’s nostalgia. Voltron! And more! I have high hopes for the movie later in 2018.


  1. Thrawn (Timothy Zahn)- When I was in college, I discovered Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars books and The Thrawn Trilogy. The books felt so seamless to the original movie trilogy. I was disappointed when Disney did away with the expanded universe- but completely thrilled when Disney brought Thrawn into the fold. This book was a fun read on the Thrawn origins.
  2. Kids of Appetite (David Arnold): I really enjoyed Arnold’s 2nd book more than his first (though not a complete knock on Mosquitoland). It’s a tale of friendship, compassion, death and grief, and so much more.

Sports Book of the Year


  1. Chuck Noll: His Life Work (Michael MacCambridge)- Ok, so the only sports book I read this year. I thought it was excellent (confession: I am a complete Steelers fan). MacCambridge does a great job of focusing on Noll and not the personalities and dynamics of the 70’s Dynasty Steelers. I have to admit, I even had tears at one point in the book. No other sports book has done that for me!

For the year, I read 22 books. My goal for 2018 is 35 books. I would like to read (especially Theologically) more voices of women and people of color. I am looking forward to what the new year has to bring!

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New Room 2017 Recap


I had the opportunity to attend the New Room Conference in Nashville, TN on September 20-22nd . This was the 2nd time in the last three years that I was able to attend. This year’s conference was head and shoulders above my previous time attending (two years ago).

Many conference that I’ve attended fall into the category of “trainings.” We (Pastors and Laity) attend in order to learn how to be more effective in ministry in our churches and communities. “Training” conferences always have a worship element that I’ve felt refreshed with- but the main attraction is usually the nuts and bolts you receive.

This year’s New Room does not fall into the “training” Conference, unless it is a training in revival.

From Sandra Richter speaking about the stages of Spiritual Awakenings through the life of Josiah in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles; to Adam Weber challenging us to tap into the power of prayer; Lisa Yebuah preaching how God has a track record of making a way in our places of impossibility; Bishop Swanson preaching about our relationships with one another and our ability to be present.

What was most impactful for the conference was the ministry of Sandy Millar (Founder of Alpha) and the worship leading of Mark Swayze Band. Millar is an Anglican priest who is full of the Holy Spirit (who knew such thing existed?). The Holy Spirit worked through Sandy is powerful ways while he shared on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Mark Swayze, and his band, helped facilitate worship musically in a way that brought depth and language to the work of the Spirit in our midst. (The picture above is from one of these worship times). I have been to many conferences across the spectrum, but never have I encountered the Holy Spirit as I did at New Room.

This Conference is important because as I write, a shooter has killed over 50 people and injured 400+ in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is, yet again, evidence of a problem in our world. The problem is our human propensity to sin. Spiritual problems need a spiritual solution. Seedbed, the organization that puts on New Room, is committed to sowing for a Spiritual Awakening. Coming home from New Room, I am hopeful that we are beginning to see the first shoots of a new awakening springing forth from the ground!

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Flags, Anthems, Trees, and Forests


I attended seminary in Philadelphia. It was a lot different experience than growing up in rural Western Pennsylvania or attending college in rural Kentucky. I can remember sitting in a ‘touchy-feely’ class, where we would share our experiences and how they formed our faith (not particularly my favorite kind of class), and as I listened to the stories of my classmates, I realized that they were much different than my own.

I had two options as I listened to those who would become my friends: I could discount their experiences OR I could listen, seek to understand, and live empathetically as a brother and a friend.

The rage of the week is NFL players kneeling, or in the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers not coming out during the anthem (save for Allejandro Villenueva). Those who are critical of NFL players will say that the players are disrespecting the flag and the men and women who fought for our freedoms. Those who are kneeling will say that they are using the very rights guaranteed by our Constitution to shed light on inequalities in our great nation.

I think, especially for White America, we are missing the forest for the trees. The reason that we are missing the forest (big picture) for the trees (kneeling during anthem, or other rage of the week) is that we have failed to listen to our brothers and sisters who are people of color in our country.

Their experience is much different than my own. But I had to listen in order to have a better understanding, which led to great empathy. I could have focused on the trees (different people will have different experiences), but I would have missed the big picture: That each person, regardless of the color of their skin, should be treated equally, with respect, as people created in the image of God.

If we were to refuse to get caught up in the “how they are protesting/communicating” and instead focus on the “why are they protesting,” what might we hear? As I have challenged my congregation over the years, I want to challenge you this morning: Rather than focusing on the tree (kneeling during the anthem), ask your Black friends, family members, co-workers, or church members to lunch and listen to their experiences.

  • What is it like to be non-white in America?
  • What do you feel when you hear our President say that there are “good people” among the White Supremecist at UVA in Charlottesville earlier this year?
  • How is your life affected by racism corporately and individually?
  • What is communicated to you when you see NFL players kneeling during the anthem?

In my eyes, the big picture is that I love our country, but I hate that there are people whose experience has been different from mine and who are treated as 2nd class citizens. Rather than expecting uniform behavior during our anthem, let’s uniformally work to make our country worth standing up for all people. (h/t to Ricky Extanus for giving me the thought for that last sentence.)


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Finding Joy in God’s Presence

One of the lessons I remember from my days as a teenager in Youth Group in Sheakleyville United Methodist Church was learning about the attributes of God. I can remember sitting on the chancel steps as Pastor Gary taught us that God is Omniscient (all-knowing), Omnipotent (all-powerful), and Omnipresent (Present Everywhere).

This morning, I was reading in Thomas Oden’s John Wesley’s Teachings: Vol. 1, God and Providence and Oden was speaking of the implications of God’s omnipresence. He writes,

“No one can speak rightly of the attributes of God while ignoring their moral implications. The teaching of divine omnipresence has powerful consequences for interpersonal relationships. It shapes our dealings with others. The very thoughts of God’s omnipresence calls us to moral attentiveness to what we are currently saying and feeling. It is as if we are being held up immediately before the all-seeing, all-knowing God who fills even secret spaces.

The resulting moral implication: measure each moral choice in relation to the simple fact of the eternal divine presence. Behavior is transformed, speech reshaped, thinking reconfigured in relation to this omnipresent Companion.”
Thomas Oden John Wesley’s Teaching: Vol. 1 (pg. 44)

The short interpretation: You live your life differently when you live with the knowledge that God is with you every moment. Our choices are impacted by the God who is with us. We take seriously the call to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)

God’s omnipresence is more than just about transforming moral behavior. It is a source of joy and comfort. It means that we are not alone. God is with us and will never leave us. For the times when our family, friends, co-workers seem to leave us, God is our constant companion in whom we find strength, encouragement, guidance, and love.

As you go through your day today (and the days to come) allow the omnipresence of God to transform your decisions, words, and attitudes. Allow God’s omnipresence to be a source of joy- we are not alone. God is with us.

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Slow Down

This past Sunday, when I got home from church, I found our oldest daughter on the couch with tears in her eyes. I thought, perhaps, that she may have been in a time-out and was upset about it. So I asked her what was wrong and she told me something I wasn’t really expecting to hear.

She had been listening to a CD that we listened to when she was much younger (think 2-4 years old). Her favorite song came on (Picnic Time for Teddy Bears) and she got emotional. As we talked, she realized that what she was teary about was that she is no longer that little girl. She is growing up. And it is moving quicker than she realizes it.

It’s moving quicker than her mom and dad realize it, too!

Abbie is getting ready to begin her 5th grade year (is it getting dusty in here?), Chloe is in 1st grade and Malachi will be in pre-school. As much as we want to slow our kids down from growing up, time continues to march on. As parents, we try to do our best to slow our own pace down so that we don’t miss anything; so that our kids know they are loved; so they know what is important.

If I’m honest with you, I cried while I talked with Abbie about a song called, Picnic Time for Teddy Bears. But we weren’t crying about a song, we were crying as a result of the realization that every moment that passes is one we won’t get back and the challenge of embracing the moments in front of us. Each day, we have to make the decision to carry-on like any other day, or to slow down and make the most of the moments we have with our kids, with our spouse, our friends, and even our God.

Nichole Nordeman, on her new album, has a song called Slow Down. While Nordeman isn’t my normal listen, I’ve always admired her lyrics. The song is about a parent telling her baby/kids to slow down from growing up- and a kid singing to her parent to slow down. I’ll admit that every time I’ve listened to the song I’ve cried.

Slow Down. Smell the Roses. Play board games. Stay up late talking about Star Wars or why whatever random topic your kid wants to talk about when they should be sleeping. Each moment that passes is one we won’t get back!

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Speaking Truth to Empires

I have been reading a lot of NT Wright lately (How God Became King and The Day the Revolution Began). There is a passage in HGBK that seems to speak to our role as Christians today when it comes to truth.

“The difference between the kingdoms is striking. Caesar’s kingdom (and all other kingdoms that originate in this world) make their way by fighting. But Jesus’s kingdom-God’s kingdom enacted through Jesus- makes its way with quite a different weapon, one that Pilate refuses to acknowledge: telling the truth:

“So! said Pilate. “You are a king, are you?”
“You’re the one who’s calling me a king,” replied Jesus. “I was born for this: I’ve come into the world for this: to give evidence about the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
“Truth!” said Pilate. “What’s that?” (John 18:37-38) (NT Wright, HGBK pg 144)

Certainly, we know that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life-” and it is Jesus who gives evidence to the truth of God’s love and grace for the world. Yet, in our world today truth is in such sort supply. We’ve watered down the truth; we’ve created alternate facts and fake news- all of which distract us from what is really true. That Jesus calls us to a way of living that is far different from the ways of the world.

How God Became King speaks of how empires and those in power have difficulty with the truth:

“The point about truth, and about Jesus and his followers bearing witness to it, is that truth is what happens when humans use words to reflect God’s wise ordering of the world and so shine light into its dark corners, bringing judgement and mercy where it is badly needed. Empires can’t cope with this. They make their own “truth,” creating “facts on the ground” in the depressingly normal way of violence and injustice.” (NT Wright, HGBK pg. 145)

Wright could have been writing after the 2016 Presidential election here in America, but speaks of the truth that Empires cannot handle the truth. As Christians, we are to pursue truth- not the truth of the Empire- but the truth of the King, the Living God. A reminder that as the Empire calls us to give our allegiance to the Empire and/or Emperor/Leader, that we are called to give our allegiance and our lives to another King and a different kingdom. As Christians, we are called to speak the truth by shining the light of Christ into the dark corners of the world- speaking out against falsehoods and speaking (and showing) mercy to the least of these.

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