Family Dinner Groups

20 Jan

(Below is a letter I wrote to our church about something we’re starting this year. It’s something I’m really excited about.)


As you’ve probably heard by now, we’re starting something in February that is going to be a major part of what we do at Center City in 2016 and beyond.

More and more, folks are trading face to face (that is to say, real) relationships for digital ones. I’m reading a book now on this phenomenon called “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.” In it, the author Sherry Turkle outlines the death of conversation and as a result, the death of true relationships. This is startling.

The early church grew around dinner tables. They spent substantive time together sharing life—often in the form of meals (See Acts:2:42-47). We’re going to follow their lead. This year we’re going to grow and deepen our relationships with one another and with God. These groups are going to be the context for that growth. As we prioritize time with one another, we’ll move past the pleasantries of functional relationships into a genuine space where love is formed. We are all yearning for connection with people and yet continue to live isolated and fragmented lives. I don’t want that to be true of our community. If we’re really family, we should be spending unhurried time together regularly.

In addition to our meals together each week all around the city, we’re going to be reading NT Wright’s great book “Simply Good News” as a community. This book will be the starting point for conversation each week at dinner. Go ahead and order a copy here or we’ll have some copies available on Sunday for purchase.

On Sunday, January 31st, we’re going to be doing an interest meeting for potential hosts at the Docusen home. I would love for some of you to be at that meeting and consider hosting a group.

I will send additional information in the coming weeks.

God is going to do real stuff around your dinner tables this year.

-Pastor Joseph


6 Jan

Center City Church,

In the Christian Church calendar, today is Epiphany (I’m sure all of you had this in your personal calendars and have been counting down the days since last January 6th). As I was typing these words my wife Chelsi just asked what I was writing. When I said, “I’m writing an email to the church for Epiphany,” she said, “Excuse me, what?”

So what is Epiphany?

Epiphany means manifestation. What the Church celebrates today is the manifestation of Jesus to the whole world; after being made known to the shepherds of Bethlehem, He is revealed to the Magi (wise men) who have come from the East to adore Him.

Jesus is still able to be found today. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus said, “…seek and you will find…” (Mt. 7:7). I believe that. Advent reminded us that God became flesh in Jesus. But belief that Jesus existed isn’t the same as worshiping him now as Lord.

May we seek and ever find Jesus in this new year. And once found, may we give him the proper place as Lord in our hearts, lives, homes, cities, and world.

Below is an excerpt from Brian Zahnd about Epiphany…

“If you think finding Christ means nothing more than adding him to your life—(as one would add an insurance policy with death benefits to their life)—you haven’t yet had the real Epiphany, the Epiphany the old magi speaks of. Christ is not something that will nicely accommodate your cherished assumptions. Christ is the most radical thing that has ever happened to this world. To see Christ as Christ, the King of the Jews who is now King of the World—Is to realize that Caesar is not Lord, Pharaoh is not Lord, but Jesus is Lord. Jesus cannot be owned or incorporated or subsumed into any other nation—Not Babylon, not Egypt, not Rome, not Russia, not England, not America. Jesus is building his own nation (kingdom) — it’s the Kingdom of God. Christ does not come to endorse any nation — he comes to set up his own.” (Brian Zahnd)

-Pastor Joseph

Paul, Martin Luther King Jr., and a New Humanity

21 May

I’ve gotten more feedback on this message than any other sermon I’ve ever preached. It seems to have struck a chord with a variety of people. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Pyramid Scheme Evangelism

7 Nov

It happens to all of us. A Facebook message. A random text. “Hey, man,” says the kid from high school you haven’t spoken to (or thought of) in nearly a decade. It’s so utterly predictable what is going to happen next. “What will it be this time?” I think to myself.

$80/month fruit juice? Time share? Beauty products?

Everything inside me wants to avoid this annoyance. But I’m a pastor and sometimes these messages are folks wanting prayer, so I respond. Pleasantries are exchanged and feigned interest is attempted. But then, it’s down to business….

“What are you doing for life insurance?”

It used to infuriate me. I would think, “We haven’t spoken a word to each other in years and now you bait me into conversation so that you can sell me some crappy, overpriced product!?”

I wonder if non-Christians see Christians the same way I see these earnest and irritating juice-hawkers.

I think we’ve done a pretty good job in recent years getting away from evangelistic models that don’t work. We’re not into handing out tracks anymore. We laugh at street preachers that scream outside of big sporting events. Instead, we’ve adopted a relational-evangelism model over the confrontational means that we’ve seen to be hurtful and ineffective. But I can’t help but think our relational-model sometimes mirrors the offensiveness of multi-level marketing. It’s still a sales tactic.

This is what these companies are really asking of you:

“We don’t have capital or any marketing budget so here’s the deal… We want access to all your friends and family. And since we can’t get into their living rooms or onto their iPhones or internet browsers, we need you to leverage the relationships you’ve spent your whole life building to sell our juice for us. And if you are successful, we’ll give you about 8% of the profits from the transaction.”

The people that are a part of these programs are now unable to see family and neighbors for who they are. Rather, every relationship is now an opportunity for a new customer. And even if a real relationship (or conversation for that matter) is sought, their attempt is met with suspicion. Everything now feels disingenuous because the person (target) knows what the overall goal is to convert them into a customer.

I don’t want to belabor the point, but I hope you’re seeing what I am getting at.

When we enter into relationships with people with the sole purpose of “cashing the check” with them, we are no better than the pyramid scheme folks. Instead of a juice company, we’re working for an atonement theory we’ve been sold or an anemic soteriology. Or perhaps we’re just working under the weight of guilt we’ve been put under to “spread the gospel at all costs.” We’ve been duped into thinking of evangelism in terms of transactions. We’ve been told our goal is to (rather quickly) get the non-believer to say a prayer and move on to the next person (mark). It’s all about numbers. Some think you can’t become a platinum member of the kingdom without adopting the sales mantra of “always be closing.”

Don’t you see how this idea would sabotage any chance of real relationships? People know when they’re projects and aren’t particularly fond of it. It’s easy to put together a list of “non-believers” and make that a target list. It’s hard to actually enter real relationships with folks and be mutually vulnerable. It’s hard to have conversations that you’re not directing. It’s tough to be honest about your doubts and struggles.

Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

At best, I think much of our evangelism is trying to convince people that there is a field that has treasure in it that exists. But we never let them get out there and search for it. At worst, our approach is to scare the hell out of people about what’s going to happen if they don’t find the treasure.

Jesus also said “seek and you will find.”

I’m not sure we believe that for non-believers. In our arrogance and zeal we try to be their guides in the treasure hunting business. Like over-bearing parents pointing out all the easter eggs, we drag people along trying to be the center of attention in their salvation story.

A lot of folks like to quote (or perhaps misquote) St. Francis’ famous words, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words” these days. Some use it as an excuse to never speak. I’m not advocating a wordless faith. Words are necessary for communication. My point is, before you use your words, use your life. Don’t feel the pressure of “sealing the deal” with every encounter. Plant seeds. Be obedient. Build genuine relationships that aren’t contingent on results. Jesus will use our being faithful and real to advance his kingdom. 

“Evangelism is believing and living as if this is really good news, as if it’s incredible news and we have something to say. Evangelism also means that we learned to say it the way Jesus said it and not just the way we want to say it. We have to learn his methods as well as his truth. So we learn to treat people with dignity.

-Eugene Peterson

Can a Christian Eat Food?

4 Nov

(I hate that I need to post this as a disclaimer but alas I do…this post is satire.)

In a culture with a shifting moral compass and a penchant toward acquiescence, it is not shocking that the issue of food eating has crept its way into the church. Hiding behind the idea of tolerance, Christian brothers and sisters have been easily deceived in the shifting seas of conformity to the world. “I am free in Christ to eat food,” they say.

What I am about to say is certainly not going to win me many friends, but I have a holy obligation to speak the truth. If I don’t, the consequences could be dire.

The bible is very clear about this issue. Proverbs 23:2 says: …put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony” (also see Proverbs 23:20-21).

Let this post serve as a knife to your throat.

I see this food eating disease being bragged about all over social media. People are posting pictures of their plates or themselves eating the food. This is wide-spread among Christians and I think we have become numb to the consequences of food eating.

I have been personally affected by this food eating disease. I lost a friend 3 years ago to a heart attack caused by clogged arteries. He ate heavily his entire life. So excuse me if I am offended by your food eating being thrown in my face. Food killed my friend. I wish someone had told him about the dangers of food eating before his first bite. My friend will never be able to throw a baseball in the front yard with his young children because of food.

Paul says that “all things are permissible but not all beneficial.” He also warns us not to “offend the lesser brother” by our freedom.  Are you mocking the those who have been ravaged by food eating when you indulge in the eating of food. Do you not know any food-addicts? Or what about the dangers of choking on bite that was too big?

Pardon me for coming along and setting the bar high for holiness. We’ve lost our distinction in the world. People are parading their food eating freedom around like a badge of honor.

The bottom line isn’t: “CAN a Christian eat food?”

Rather, it is: “SHOULD a Christian eat food?”


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