Monthly Archives: January 2011

Almost two months ago, I received an early Christmas present from InterVarsity Press: a copy of Mark Labberton’s new book The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor. The book opens with a story that I’ve heard Mark tell twice, once when he was speaking at the 2007 Association of Presbyterian Mission Pastors Conference and once at the 2008 gathering of Presbyterian Global Fellowship.  Doris, an elderly woman from the church he then pastored, was carjacked.  Her response to the carjacker is an incredible example of Christ’s love in action.  No summary can do justice to the story. It needs to be heard as Mark tells it,  so . . . read it. This book is work checking out if for nothing else than its introductory story.

The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor is about much more than Doris and her carjacker, though.  Labberton shows throughout the book how the ways we see and name others affect the way we act toward them.  As Labberton writes, “The burden of this book is the injustice against misperceived people living misnamed lives in a misnamed world.  The individual and collective injustice of misnaming is near the hear of our daily personal and global undoing” (p. 125).  When we name someone by their ethnic background, or economic circumstance, or distance from us, we often unconsciously justify our unjust actions (or lack of action) toward them.  Those actions reveal the true state of our hearts, hearts which often see with distorted lenses and name with prejudiced assumptions because of our brokenness.   

It’s worth noting that the book is intended to be read slowly and interactively, too.  This is why I’m just now – a month after Christmas – finishing and writing about the book.  Each section ends with thoughtful questions or exercises for reflection to ensure that the message doesn’t go in one ear and out the other.  Thinking through some of these questions helped me recognize the subtle ways I misperceive and misname people.  Examples from my work at the cafe frequently came to mind, particularly the example I wrote about for the House of St. Michael blog

All that is to say, it’s worth reading, and reading slowly.  And it’s worth sharing, so I want to give this book away. If you’re willing to read this book and then talk about it with me, it’s yours.  First come, first serve.  Just contact me, either by email or by commenting here or on Facebook, and I’ll gladly pass along the book to you.

A few months ago, I stuck my foot in my mouth during an important meeting at the seminary.  We were discussing the creation of a church-planting track for students, and I suggested that students in such a track should be required to be involved in a local church during seminary.  Seminarians are of course expected to be involved in a local church, but this isn’t always the case.  Embarrassingly, I exaggerated and said that they rarely are.  That’s not true.  Most seminarians are deeply involved in their churches.

What is rare, though, is for them to love their churches.  A friend observed in a conversation last week that seminary education does not instill love for the church.  More often it instills antagonism.  Students learn shocking things about the Bible that their pastors never told them.  Professors or visiting speakers may make subtle remarks demeaning churches.  Field education placements may use seminarians like cheap labor.  Denominational committees on preparation for ministry are feared for the obstacles they place in front of candidates for ordination.  Sometimes students are even warned that the congregations they serve will become their enemies.  Resistant to change, demanding, full of broken and sinful people – the church is not easy to love. 

I don’t think anyone deliberately tries to instill distaste for the church.   In fact, I think my seminary did a better job than most at instilling a positive attitude toward the church (and from what I see of it today, my school is continuing to grow in doing so).  But the truth that the church is not easy to love often comes across more clearly than the call to love the church.  And we need to clearly hear that call.  

Anyone going into pastoral ministry needs to work to cultivate a love for the church.  Like a healthy marriage, a healthy relationship between pastors and congregations requires deliberate work toward love.  This is even more important, I think, for church-planters.  Ironically, a lot of church-planters get their start through a lack of love for the church.  Antagonistic toward the rigidity or inward-focus or backwardness of some churches, or determined to advance their own theological views, people strike out on their own to do something new.  For a while, that something new is often like the anti-church church.  It’s the place where things are deliberately untraditional, where the new is always celebrated, where churchy language or symbols are deliberately cast off.  And it works for a while, until it circumstances dictate that this new community develop its own structures of support, its own traditions, its own churchy-ness. 

I think church-planting by rebelling against the existing church is a recipe for disaster. For one thing, a community should be defined by what it is for, not what it’s against.  More important theologically, though, the Church matters.  It’s not just a tool that God uses for his purposes and then discards.  It’s the community of God’s beloved children, chosen before the creation of the world for fellowship with God through Christ (Eph. 1:4-7).  She’s the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-30), an image which suggests that God loves the community of the church as an end in itself.  Church-planting in the way of Jesus Christ is not about the creation of new communities which are radically different just for the sake of being different.  Church-planting in the way of Jesus Christ is about loving the church, desiring to see it grow and live into the beauty which Christ sees in it.   

Today I start training for the 2011 Pittsburgh Marathon.  It’s 18 weeks away.  That’s more than four months of running five or six days a week.  All to prepare for (hopefully) just under four hours of running on May 15th.  That’s a lot of training.

I’ve been looking forward to it, though.  The discipline of it is attractive to me.  Perhaps that’s part of the reason why I chose an 18 week training plan rather than the more standard 16 week plans.  I’m using the “Less-is-More Plan” created by Keith and Kevin Hanson and featured in this article from the January 2011 issue of Runner’s World.  The runs don’t get as long as conventional marathon training plans, but there are more runs and more intense speed work, training the body to run even when it’s tired. 

Some particular things I’m looking forward to: (1) On Thursdays, I’m supposed to run at my marathon goal pace.  I said I want to finish the marathon in 3:45, so it gave me a goal pace of 8:35/mile.  My long runs are supposed to be 45 to 60 seconds/mile slower, so I’m going to shoot for 9:15 on those.  I’m already comfortable at these paces, but for much shorter distances than a marathon.  Keeping that speed up for 26 miles will be tough.  (2) A few friends and I are raising support for Team World Vision, running the race to raise money for clean water in Kenya and Ethiopia.  It gives me joy to know that there’s a purpose behind all this running.   (3) Taking advantage of the gym that Eileen and I joined a few weeks ago for running indoors on cold, slippery, snowy winter days. 

Some things I’m not looking forward to: (1) Running during Holy Week: 9 miles on Maundy Thursday, 6 on Good Friday, 8 on Holy Saturday, and 16 miles on Easter Day.  (2) My long runs will be on Sundays, effectively filling most afternoons after finishing worship at Upper Room.  I thought about adjusting the schedule and pushing them to Mondays, but it will be hard enough to regularly run 6 to 8 miles on Monday afternoons after opening at the cafe.  If I’m running double that distance, I’d rather do it on a Sunday afternoon. (3) Disappearing free time.  It appears that training for a marathon is a bit like a part-time job.  I’m going to be running for at least 5 hours a week at first, then almost 10 hours per week in the higher mileage weeks.  I should remind myself not to take on much extra during these months.

Today: 4 miles.  Here we go!

The stats below were sent to me a couple days ago by WordPress.  For a blog where I share a hodge-podge of theological questions, church news, book reviews, and notes from my personal life,  it seems to get fair traffic (5,000 views per year).  Based on feedback I get in Facebook, it seems most of my friends read my newer posts there, rather that on the blog itself.  Which means that what gets attention here are posts which show up people’s searches.  This is why only two of the 5 most-visited posts in 2010 were actually written in 2010.  And this is entertaining: a search for “sadness” regularly brings people to this blog.  Perhaps that means I’ll write on those regularly searched-for topics more in 2011. The environment, spiritual disciplines, and scripture, I mean.  Not sadness. 

Anyway, here’s this blog’s 2010 year in review, in Wordpress’s words:


The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,000 times in 2010. That’s about 12 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 38 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 210 posts. There were 14 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 1mb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was April 18th with 61 views. The most popular post that day was Heaven and Nature Sing: Creation Care and Spiritual Disciplines.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for sadness, dominion over creation, genesis 1 dominion, bright, and working for jesus.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Heaven and Nature Sing: Creation Care and Spiritual Disciplines December 2008


Genesis 1:28, To “Subdue” and “Have Dominion Over” Creation January 2009


Renewing the Mind: Porn, Neurology, and Monkish Wisdom February 2010
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The Bright Sadness – New Charlie Hall CD August 2008


A Jewish Perspective of the Resurrection of Jesus March 2010
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