I’m Not Used to the Cycle of Death and Resurrection Yet

garden pic

Today I’m digging out 40 bulbs of garlic from our garden, a grape vine, and a blackberry bush. The latter two were birthday gifts for my wife 4 years ago.

We’ve been renting this home that we’re preparing to leave, and our landlord changed his mind about the raised bed garden and surrounding plants that I put in. He wants it all removed and reseeded with grass.

I took the phone call about the garden in a crowded café last Saturday, and I nearly broke down in tears at my table. I can’t tell you what that garden has meant for me, what it has done for my life and for my family, and what it symbolizes to me. I want to try to put it all into words someday, but for now I’m just feeling the ache of that loss.

If we want to move on to the next season of our life together as a family, we need to literally dig up the old stuff and leave this place as if we had never been here.

We’ve moved quite a bit since marrying back in 2002 and moving to Philadelphia. In 2005 we moved to Vermont. In 2009 we moved to Connecticut. In 2011 we moved to Ohio. In 2016 we will move to western Kentucky.

We’ve dug up so many things, packed so many boxes, and left so many people behind from each place. Each time I’ve clung to a promise from God that we were doing this living by faith thing, moving on to a place that we knew we needed to go. We trusted that new life could spring up in each new place we settled.

And so today we’re digging up the life we planted at our home in Ohio so that we can move on to the next thing. I’ve had plenty of chances to get used to this process of planting, uprooting, and moving on, the cycle of death that must precede resurrection and new life.

Among the Bible verses that I wish didn’t exist, there’s this one:

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24 NIV

There’s this cycle of life, death, and resurrection that spins on and on in our lives, and each time something comes to an end, I can’t help holding my breath and worrying about the next thing that follows. Will life come out of this loss? What will come next?

Today I’m looking backward at the past provision of God and all of the times that I didn’t think we would make it. As we stepped out in obedience into the great unknown, leaving behind what we knew for certain, we didn’t always find what we were looking for or wanted, but we learned that God was holding us. Isn’t that funny how we want God to hand over what we want, but then we find that God has only wanted us all along? I have pouted and fumed that God’s hands were empty when I reached out to him. Why didn’t God give me what I wanted when I wanted it?

Little did I know that God’s empty hands are there to hold us and to draw us near. When I asked God for the desires of my heart, he showed me that I’m the desire of his heart.


Real Treasure Is Always Hard to Find


The following post is from my bi-weekly e-newsletter. I don’t typically share this content on my blog, but I thought I’d offer a bit of a sample of what you can expect if you sign up: 

A man is laboring in the field for a large business. He’s removing rocks with his shovel in the heat of the day, and it’s back-breaking work.

Still, he keeps showing up and working from sun up to sun down in order to provide for his family, creating a small but pleasant little oasis in the home that they had saved up to buy.

Everything in the man’s life changes when his shovel smashes into a metal box.

He looks over his shoulder to make sure no one is looking.

He’s all alone.

Smashing the lock off the box with a fierce thrust of his shovel, he finds stacks of large bills, rare coins, and impressively large jewels. He’s never seen anything quite like this.

Although he is overjoyed by his discovery, which he quickly covers up and marks with a uniquely shaped rock, he knows that his wife may have a hard time accepting what they must do next.

In order to buy the parcel of land where he found the box, he has to convince his wife to sell their fine little home and just about everything else they own.

That evening she agrees but with grave reservations. When his family catches wind that he is selling everything he owns in order to buy an empty field, they’re livid. They mock him and some even threaten to disown him as he sells one possession after another.

We all know how this parable of Jesus ends. Who wouldn’t want to be that man who found the treasure?

Then again, perhaps we forget that gaining a treasure beyond our wildest dreams means we must make significant sacrifices and even work extremely hard in order to attain it.

That doesn’t mean we could ever possibly earn the treasure in this parable. No one is worthy of God’s Kingdom. It’s a pure gift that is given to us. However, it is a gift that we can fail to find if we cling to possessions and priorities that we mistakenly believe to be more valuable.

In fact, we can fail to receive this incredible gift if we’re too lazy or too afraid to do the work required to attain it.

I’ve been guilty of wanting quick fix Christianity and attempting drive through spirituality at times.

I want to read the book, learn the thing, add the practice, or recite the prayer that makes things better NOW.

But finding the treasure of God’s Kingdom, seeking the presence of God, or being transformed into a kind, loving person who imitates Jesus isn’t a crash diet or life hack.

I see the daily disciplines of pursuing silence, settling my mind before God to pray, and meditating on scripture as the shovels we use to toss aside the many distractions that keep us from the treasure of God’s presence.

In order to pursue this treasure, we have to leave so many other things behind, even good things. It’s not without a cost. It’s not without faith that we are setting aside good things for something better.

This is especially true in the discipline of prayer. Honestly, there are days when it feels like nothing much is going on.

Yay! I just spent 20 minutes sitting quietly on my couch! Go God!

However, if I neglect that time, I miss out on the epiphanies and holy moments that most certainly come in their time. In addition, if I fail to take that time to be still, I’ll most certainly spend my days in motion, frantically running from one thing to another.

It’s a daily discipline to keep digging, to keep counting the cost, and to keep making sacrifices in the hope that God can lead us to something better.

This is faith in action.

It’s not fast.

It’s not glamorous.

It’s not something you can capture in a selfie, sharable image, or tweet.

Some days it feels like you’re just slinging one pile of rocks into another pile of rocks.

And then some days you strike that treasure. The presence of God slowly creeps in and brings peace, hope, and joy.

In that moment, we can be assured that we have never earned this magnificent gift, but we have certainly moved what feels like heaven and earth in order to find it.


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I Would Rather Be an Atheist Than Attend the Village Church


UPDATE: The Village Church has apologized and reconciled with Karen Hinkley, admitting wrongdoing and pledging to review all policies related to this situation.


When I compared the people who rejected Jesus with the people who accepted Jesus for a recent book project, there is one stark difference between the two.

Those who rejected Jesus had systems of religious practices and theological constructs to rely on and defend. When Jesus came to fulfill the law, impart the Spirit, and offer access to God outside of religious authorities, they saw him as a threat.

Those who accepted Jesus were generally the sinful outsiders who had little to no previous connection with God. They had been rejected by the religious institutions and the leaders who controlled the insiders and outsiders. They didn’t rely on laws or rules to get in with God. They were no doubt living in sin, but they also didn’t have a false sense of connection with God. They were ready to receive God’s genuine freedom, not a man-made counterfeit based on proof-texting and laws.

I’ve been following a recent series of events involving a missionary named Karen Hinkley affiliated with The Village Church in Dallas, a congregation that is led by Matt Chandler. Chandler, it should be noted, leads the Acts 29 Network, a church planting network that had long been affiliated with well-documented spiritual abuser Mark Driscoll until Driscoll’s misdeeds became too much of a liability.

I’ll offer a brief summary of the situation involving the Village Church. Karen (now Hinkley) and Jordan Root were serving as missionaries, Jordan confessed to viewing child pornography (and later admitted to abusing young girls when he was underage), Jordan also has a long history of being in situations with young, vulnerable children, Karen opted to annul the marriage and leave Jordan, the Village Church disagreed with Karen and placed her under church discipline, Jordan is allegedly a member in good standing because he “repented” despite his history of lying, Karen is under church discipline, and The Village Church has denied her request to terminate membership.

Karen has pleaded with The Village Church to be more forthcoming about the details surrounding her husband and has asked them to work diligently to uncover any inappropriate contact he may have had with children as proof of his repentance.

Rather than apologize for the creepy, cult-like “denial” to Karen’s letter terminate her membership, The Village Church dug in further and sent a rather terrifying self-justifying letter in which the church leaders described Karen as a covenant member who must abide by the counsel of her church leadership and work to restore her marriage. The biblical proof-texting in this letter is unfeeling and almost robotic. Any sense of empathy or common humanity evaporates so long as Bible verses can be piled up.

It’s as if Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you proof text one another: just as I have proof texted you, you also are to proof text another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you proof text one another.” John 13:34-45, New Village Church Translation.

The Village Church has an allegedly air-tight, biblical rationale for everything, and that is their biggest problem. They can justify unreasonable expectations about exercising control in the lives of their so-called “covenant members” because they honestly believe they have the Bible behind them. They see themselves as the direct messengers of God who have correctly discerned the authoritative Word of God, and any disagreement with the “God-appointed” elders is a direct offense against God. How else can you explain such a heavy-handed, laborious response to Karen Hinkley when all they had to do was say, “Good bye”?

I would much rather start out at square one as an atheist or unrepentant sinner than place myself under the spiritual abuse, distortion of scripture, and controlling leadership of The Village Church. Honestly, such a closed, tightly regulated system will eventually fail many people eventually any way, so you may as well start out with a blank slate spiritually.

You won’t see your need for a savior if you’re constantly looking at the ways that the Bible makes you right.

While in seminary and in the years following, I have continually been challenged by the words of Jesus about this error: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40, ESV).

It’s not that The Village Church can’t preach the Gospel or hasn’t led people to salvation. It’s that the Village Church ties on burdens that people cannot bear and distorts or obscures the message of the Gospel with man-made laws. The Village Church leadership has a clean cup on the outside with shining scripture verses, but they distort a filthy inside that is rooted in over-reaching leadership and a lack of emphasis on love for the sake of being as “biblical” as possible. They have strained so hard at the gnats of “biblical leadership” and “biblical eldership” that they have overlooked the more basic commands to love one another.

I have been in conservative churches where these unhealthy dynamics have lead to spiritual abuse, judgment, severed relationships, and division. There is no doubt that people who are new to the Gospel without such a background are far better prepared to receive the Gospel. I’ve personally detoxed from negative church experiences for years and watched many friends do the same.

For every time I hear someone point to the “souls saved” by The Village Church or the Acts 29 Network, I’ll point them to the many friends I know who have either left the faith or struggled mightily for years to find peace with God after being exposed to such toxic theology and leadership.

I know that such a provocative post title must be difficult to read for people affiliated with The Village Church or who have benefitted from the work of Matt Chandler. I don’t write such words lightly. It’s my sincere hope that a post like this helps us have frank conversations about what healthy and unhealthy churches look like.

Most importantly, it’s my hope and prayer that the Village Church leadership rethinks the way it overreaches into the lives of covenant members. If they persist in their ways, I fear that they’ll be receiving a lot more requests to terminate covenant membership. Will they continue to deny the right of covenant members who disagree with them to leave?


I’m Not Eager to Lose But I’m Working on It


I like to think I’m the most insecure person ever. You may disagree because you know for a fact that you’re actually way more insecure. Whether or not I own the title as the most insecure person ever, I’ll bet we can all relate to the desire to prove ourselves in order to alleviate our fears about ourselves.

What if I don’t fit in?

What if people mock me?

What if someone secretly resents me?

I want to prove that I’m OK and that I belong, and that can especially hold true with my faith and beliefs. I’ve spent a good deal of time demonstrating definitively that anyone who would ever question my beliefs or my place within a particular tribe is misguided, stupid, or just plain mean. I’ve devoted plenty of time devising ways to support arguments for either my place or the place of friends who hold to beliefs similar to my own.

It’s disconcerting when you spend the majority of your life considering yourself a Christian, and then someone comes along shouting, “Not so fast! I have definitive proof that you’re not only in error, you’re an enemy of your faith!”

Even if the claims are baseless, they’re still really jarring. We all want to prove that we’re OK and that we belong. No one wants to be left out of the group. We all have such a strong desire to belong that we’d rather fight back than lose an argument that could insert even the slightest bit of doubt.

This is why forms of black and white thinking or fundamentalism become so appealing. If you’re a true believer with flawless beliefs and practices, no one can call you out. Better yet, if you take the offensive against anyone who pushes against the boundaries, you become a hero and defender of the insiders. The defenders of the insiders are the least likely to be called out because they become indispensible.

If you’ve seen any of my Rohr for Writers posts and you’re familiar with Rohr, you may know that Rohr encourages more of a centered set approach to theology and life in general. We define and orient ourselves by what we’re pursuing rather than maintaining particular boundaries of beliefs. Centered set thinking believes that, in the case of Christianity, life transformation happens in the pursuit of Christ rather than in keeping a list of rules. You could say that the epistle to the Galatians directs us toward centered set thinking:

“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” Galatians 3:1-3, NIV

We are changed by what we pursue, not by what we defend.

IN order to adopt a more centered set approach to Christ that leaves the boundary making to others, it’s inevitable that we’ll have to step back and let them win. We’ll have to accept that in the eyes of some people we’ll have lost and become outsiders.

Along this line of thinking, Rohr writes about the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare in his book Eager to Love in order to make a case for preemptive losing. As you may guess by the title, Rohr argues that Francis and Clare weren’t eager for a debate. They were eager to love, and the most perfect way they found to love was from a non-competitive position. They chose to lose right from the start rather than minister out of influence, power, or control.

Rohr notes that Francis and his friars were mocked and abused in the early days of their ministry. People didn’t honor Francis and his friars because they looked like fools and losers. They had left money behind in order to beg for their daily bread. They left secure work behind to rebuild crumbling, abandoned churches.

Who would give these men money or food?

Who would go to their crumbling churches?

People beat them up, spat on them, and insulted them.

If Francis and his friars wanted to win, to be influential, and to belong to the class and power systems of their day, these insults would have been devastating. It’s a wonder that they didn’t give up.

However, they chose to begin by losing. Without wanting to win, they were free to love others. They didn’t fight for a place at the table. They set up their own tables where anyone was welcome.

There’s a really big challenge in looking back on the saints from so long ago: everyone wants to be on the same side as the saint in question. In fact, Rohr’s misgivings about his own Franciscan order are clearly evident throughout Eager to Love. Even the Franciscans aren’t sure how to live like St. Francis! It’s certainly tricky when an order established as an outsider receives a certain amount of insider status. All the same, Rohr’s portrait of Francis sticks with me and challenges me to think and live quite differently than what is natural.

My default in life is to fight for my place. I want to belong. I want to be liked.

Who would choose to let people mock him and laugh at him?

Who in his right mind would choose to be left out?

Who would choose to lose?

Perhaps a madman of sorts would choose to lose because he no longer wants to fight. He sees how empty that fight has left him. And when you’re tired of fighting, you may as well try something else.

I’ve grown weary of fighting for my place, even if I struggle daily with my desire to belong and to be respected. I don’t know what this will continue to look like each day, but I’ve been trying to stop fighting against my theological opponents as much as possible. I’ve long since tried to stop defending the boundaries of my faith in order to work on a more Christ-centered, centered set approach.

Nevertheless, I’m still tempted to defend the wisdom of a centered set approach. I would far prefer for my approach to become the majority position that is respected and honored—preferably with a book deal or two tossed in for good measure. I have a feeling that the people who establish themselves as the defenders and boundary keepers will generally work to solidify their positions.

I’m not sure how I’ll know if I’ve “succeeded” at losing, but I’m still giving losing a shot.

I’m eager to love, even if I’m still not eager to lose.

I suspect that my eagerness to love will be determined by how much I’m willing to lose.


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Get 5 FREE eBooks with A Christian Survival Guide


I’ll level with you. I’m a writer, not a book promoter. However, over the next two weeks, I’m going to be promoting my new book A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth.

I loved writing this book. I’m working on loving the promotion of it. Every author tries to talk up their books without overwhelming friends and family with updates. So here’s the plan, my publisher and I have put together some different offers that will appeal to different groups.

Each offer is about giving readers a chance to get the best deal possible on my writing, whether that’s just A Christian Survival Guide or it’s a bunch of books I’ve written. For instance, if you’re relatively new to my writing, this week you can pick up six eBooks for the price of one.


Starting today, August 11th: Buy A Christian Survival Guide from my publisher, and you will receive a link to FIVE free eBooks at the end of the day that includes: the TWO full length Coffeehouse Theology Study Guides, Divided We Unite, Creating Space, and Why We Run from God’s Love. The offer ends Friday, August 15th.

Not convinced? You can also read a two-chapter sample of the Survival Guide for free over at NoiseTrade books.

Can you help spread the word? 

Get 5 FREE eBooks when you purchase A Christian Survival Guide by @edcyzewski at Kregel: http://ow.ly/zR9b1.


And just a heads up, I have no idea about the precise time this offer expires on Friday the 15th (I assume by midnight EST). So don’t delay, but if you do hit any glitches, please drop a comment to let me know!