27 November 2011

Black Friday Must Go

The Associated Press wrote this about Black Friday in America: "Pepper-sprayed customers, smash-and-grab looters and bloody scenes in the shopping aisles. How did Black Friday devolve into this?"
       What has it devolved into? For one thing it is a competition to be the first in line to buy an item you probably don't need. It is the ultimate statement of American individualism.
       Second, it is about greed. In the name of gift-giving, Black Friday is all about consumption and having more stuff. In the simple world of my friend Lisa on her blog, it is GROSS.
        Third, it is about loss of something transcendent. That is to say, for many people the sales of Black Friday are an idol, a sort of god. My hunch is that Christians are just about as infected as non-Christians. I guess a $288 TV for the first 25 customers in Walmart is just too tempting.
       Many of us "religious" people become quite upset at specific social ills - homosexuality, high taxes, health care reform - to name a few. We then lose our voices on Black Friday and become part of the insanity. I just don't get that.

26 November 2011

Susy's Pottery

Susy is doing her first pottery show on the weekend of December 9-11 here in Denver. In preparation for that she has a new website at:
     You can check out her work there. I have also posted a few of her newer pieces below. Some amazing items!
     If you live in or around Denver please stop by our house on Friday evening, December 9 or Saturday morning, December 10 for the show.

24 November 2011

The People of God - Grateful

I love Thanksgiving each year, because it challenges me to reflect on what I am grateful for at the moment.
       This year I am grateful for the "regular" and very good things - my wife, Susy, my kids, Carly and Steven, my extended family, etc.
       But here is a new wrinkle in where my heart goes on this Thanksgiving Day. I marvel at and am thankful for this very unique group called The People of God. I am thankful for what is supposed to characterize them in every culture:
1. Diversity rather than homogeneity: I am grateful to God that He intentionally calls us into social, economic, political diversity and asks us to follow Jesus and to serve others as the People of God. It is humbling and enriching;
2. Corporate Faith: I am thankful that God does not ask me to follow Jesus individually and individualistically. He calls His people to have faith together (which often cuts against a culture where individual rights are central);
3. Generosity: Thanksgiving is a reminder of God's abundance in our lives. Many of us have feasts and remember how much we have been given and how good life is in many ways. For me the issue is not one of abundance, but rather what we do with that abundance. I call it the generosity quotient. The People of God are marked by their astounding generosity in response to God's astounding provision for us.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

18 November 2011

Tebow: Faith meets sport meets faith

Tim Tebow is the talk of the town in Denver these days. In case you have been visiting Mars or some other place, Tebow is the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos of the NFL.
       Last night Tebow led his team to a come-from-behind win over the New York Jets. It was an amazing win. A New York newspaper this morning had the headline, VicTIMized! Yes indeed.
       And did I mention that Tebow is a committed Christian, and is not ashamed to speak about his faith. And he is demonstrative about honoring God as he competes (kneeling down to pray after scoring a touchdown, for example).
       I'm a Tim Tebow fan - for one main reason: his humility. He has been scrutinized and mocked for his faith, and yet Tebow has not reacted. He "turned the other cheek," which seems distinctly Jesus-like!
       I wonder what would happen if an athlete who is a Muslim or a Jew was outspoken about their faith? Would they be scrutinized as Tebow has? And if they had been mocked for their faith, what would be the outrage be in our culture?
       Like I said, I am a Tim Tebow fan ... not because he is a great football player, but rather because he is attempting for his FAITH to meet his SPORT and in turn for his SPORT to meet his FAITH again.

15 November 2011

Courage is Contagious!

Last night ABC News did an interview with Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly. Giffords was shot in the head months ago in Arizona. Their courage as a couple is inspiring and courageous. It gives me hope.

14 November 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Sabbath!

We had a Shabbat Celebration last Friday evening with about 30 people. It's a great time of sharing a meal together and doing a brief liturgy to inaugurate the sabbath. We are calling the group Shalom Village for the time being.
       Well something just hilarious happened the other day. Our friend Jim brought a HAM for the dinner. Now Jim knows very well that it's a sabbath celebration with Jewish undertones. So it was partly a joke to do this.
       When Jim went to check out at the grocery store (with a $10 coupon, no less!), the scanner did not work and they could not figure out the price of the ham. So they gave it to him for FREE!
       This is what I call a Jew's worst nightmare and best dream: Bringing a ham to the shabbat dinner is a nightmare, getting it for free is a dream come true!
       We all ate the ham happily and were grateful that we live under the GRACE of God and that the Old Testament laws certainly had and have their place. But that we could enjoy the ham! (and had a great laugh at the situation too!).

What do we SAY about Jesus, really?

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. ~ 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
       I heard a speaker last week who makes the point that he does not talk about Christianity, but he only talks about "following Jesus." He's an engaging speaker, very funny. Here is some of the things I heard him saying about following Jesus:
* The Gospel is a person, not a system or a thing;
* Jesus cared for the poor;
* Jesus selected a diverse group of people as disciples, including a tax collector and a zealot who were like terrorists of today;
* Jesus told people to follow him and to become like him;
* God wants to change people's hearts to make them pure.
       I agree with everything the speaker said about following Jesus.
       At the beginning of this talk, the speaker quoted three Scriptures. One of those scriptures is 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, which says in part I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
       The very odd thing that the speaker did not talk about was "him crucified." In fact he never spoke about "crucified" or "resurrection" or other crucial realities concerning the life of Jesus Christ. It was disappointing that the speaker did not or could not talk about the MOST important Truths about the very Jesus we are called to follow! How odd! How strange!

11 November 2011

Preparing for Shabbat

Tonight is the Sabbath, which I have looked forward to all week. I think that's how it is supposed to be. In the midst of work we look forward to the rhythm of rest and of peace, being in God's presence in a unique way and being with community.
       So this evening a group of us will gather in the upper room of a barn here in Lakewood and observe some of the traditions of Shabbat:
* Lighting candles which symbolizes that God's light has come into the world;
* The Shema which calls us back to the heart of faith - that God is God and we are to love Him with everything that we are;
* The Kiddish which is so incredibly rich with foreshadowing of the Passover and Jesus at the seder and his death and resurrection.
       What helps me the most is that I must make a choice - slow down, reflect, stop ... or blow through sabbath and continue to work. The latter is a slow death, the former is life-giving.
      So to all of you on this Friday and for whenever you slow down, Shabbat-Shalom.

10 November 2011

A Plea to Penn State

To the Trustees of Penn State,
I would urge you to cancel the remainder of the football season at your institution, for numerous reasons:
   1) One of your assistant coaches, Mike McQueary, has received threats and will not be able to coach this weekend. McQueary testified against Mr. Sandusky before the grand jury;
   2) Your institution has more dignity than the rioting students showed at their protest of Joe Paterno's firing. Your students are a danger to themselves and to your institution's reputation;
   3) Nebraska fans have been warned not to wear their school colors at Saturday's game due to violence from Penn State fans. These conditions warrant you canceling your season;
   4) Your head coach of 46 years has refused to stand up as a leader and take responsibility for what happened under his tenure. Mr. Paterno's actions has caused irreparable damage to your football program;
   5) It is clear that your institution's football program is something of an idol in the hearts and minds of students, alumni, faculty, staff, and donors. The program's importance in the life of your school is so distorted that it has resulted in people acting in horrible ways about Paterno's dismissal while losing sight of the tragedy of young boys being abused.
   You owe it to the dignity of the people who were abused to take a step back, cancel the remainder of your football season, and grieve the incredible losses of this situation.

09 November 2011

Paterno's Last Decision His Worst

The picture of Joe Paterno that I will remember will be of him walking off a field with his head down. That's how he finished his 46-year tenure at Penn State today.
       It is nothing less than tragic.
       Paterno's last decision as Penn State football coach belies the character issues deep in his heart. Earlier today he announced that he would retired after this football season, rather than immediately resigning. What? Really?
       It was his last and worst decision as a leader.
       When a leader chooses to leave poorly (as Paterno did) he leaves a wake of devastation. The bigger the leader the harder they fall. Paterno is leaving in the worst way possible - refusing to take responsibility, refusing to humble himself and refusing to take the bullet as the leader.
       If "pride comes before the fall," Joe Paterno is the poster-child for it.

06 November 2011

The Muslim imams made a good point

Recently when I was in North Africa as part of a dialog with 16 Muslim clerics (imams), one of them brought up some very embarrassing moments for Christians in America.
       The imam asked how we Christians make sense of Jimmy Swaggart's infamous tearful confession on television and what we thought of the Crystal Cathedral going bankrupt. I wished that news did not spread as quickly as it does these days!
       I had no defense for these events in the Western Church.
       Now I feel even more embarrassed after reading this from the Orange County Register last week:
   GARDEN GROVE – An email sent out to members of the Crystal Cathedral congregation requesting meals for founder Robert H. Schuller's wife Arvella, who is ill with pneumonia, is creating mixed feelings of sadness and outrage among members.
   According to longtime member Jim McDonald, an email was sent out by administrators to Bible study groups as well as church elders, asking that meals for the reverend's wife be dropped off at the cathedral's Tower of Hope where the Schullers' limo drivers will be waiting to pick them up at the designated time.
       If you are not aware, the Crystal Cathedral declared bankruptcy some months ago, leaving $46 million in unsecured debt with creditors. Wow, I wonder what my imam friends would say to me now.
       There are so many opportunities for the spread of the gospel in our day. The mission agency I have worked for for many years has an annual income of about $5 million, and it works in more than 30 locations on 3 continents. The Crystal Cathedral's debt is 9 times the annual budget of my mission agency!
       I realize this blog entry is an absolute RANT, and it is not good to rant very often. But once in a while there is a situation which IS just so outlandish and bizarre that it actually DEMANDS that we rant! And this is one of those situations for me.

05 November 2011

Listening to Josh McDowell

I sat in the front row of the Oasis Conference yesterday and waited for the session to begin. All at once a man with striking white hair sat down next to me. He was wearing a jean jacket, white pants, and "loud" multi-colored high-top sneakers.
     "Hi, I'm Josh McDowell," he said. He looked at my name tage and continued, "Brian Newman ... hmmmm, I like your salad dressing."
       "That's a different Newman," I said.
       "Too bad," Josh said. "You would be rich if it was you!" He laughed loudly and gave me a huge grin.
       I heard Josh McDowell speak for the first time in April, 1983 a month after I came to faith in Jesus. It was KC'83, a conference sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. I don't remember exactly what Josh said that day, but I know it helped me draw closer to Christ. And for that I am very grateful.
       So last night I listened to Josh speaking again. He did a talk called, "Just One Click Away," which was a sobering look at the impact of the Internet on the 21st century. It was a powerful time - Josh pointing out how we have often jettisoned Truth even as we have accumulated massive amounts of knowledge.

04 November 2011

From One Year Ago

The other day I was sitting around the firepit with my friend Roger, shooting the breeze as we sometimes do. I shared with him my growing and intensifying convictions about Jews and Muslims. Later that night I remembered that a year ago I was asked to write myself a job description for The Isaac-Ishmael Initiative. This is what I wrote then, and which I continue to pursue:

       I was encouraged to write up a description of what I will do in ministry possibly in regards to Muslem–Jewish outreach and ministry. This will not be a traditional job description. I have been unable to write one.
       I am a Jew who knows how to hate those who are not Jewish. I learned this from birth, while attending Hebrew School, celebrating my bar mitzvah, and listening to my elders describe the people who are “out to get the Jews.”
       When planes hit two towers in New York City on September 11, 2001 I was living in Amsterdam. The media in Holland learned that I was a Jew from New York whose family still lives there. They also knew I was a pastor of a church in Amsterdam. They saw a news angle and I found myself being interviewed, asked questions such as, “do you see Muslems as enemies of America? Are they enemies of Christians?” My heart was “caught” in my own prejudices.
       In the past couple of years God has been stirring me, causing me to take “baby steps” to break through hatred to something else – to seek the Shalom of the children of Abraham. I have been all together reluctant to move in this direction. “I have not been called to Muslems and Jews” was my rationale.
       Perhaps God has other plans.
       I do not know what all this means, it is a “crazy” and “bizarre” idea for a Jew to be an agent of grace toward Muslems, or other Jews for that matter. I do not know how this will happen, I do not know the contexts for this to happen, I do not have a strategic plan or even a missional initiative.
       All I know is that I am a Jew who follows a rabbi named Jesus who is love and calls me to be an agent of that love.

03 November 2011

Greece: Incredibly Bad Leadership

As I write this the BBC is reporting that Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is about to resign, after his spectacular leadership debacle of calling a referendum on the EU financial bailout for Greece.
       Mr. Papandreou has instantly become the "poster child" for non-leadership, or un-leadership. What leader in their right mind would hand back to the people the decision whether to go into default as a country, and to trigger the fall of a 16-country currency (the euro)?
       In my opinion it is difficult to find many leaders in any political system at the moment. The lack of political leadership from the U.S. to Europe to Asia and beyond is striking, and has caused major problems in the world's economies. But Mr. Papandreou has drifted to new lows in leadership incompetence. His best leadership decision now is to resign.