January 2015

Today I wrote the following letter to Greg Abbott, inaugurated today (Jan 20, 2015) around noon.

Dear Governor Abbott,

Congratulations on your inauguration as Texas’ Governor today! I too claim to be a follower of Christ and to work for the common good of all Texans.Gov. Greg Abbott, right, bows his head during the benediction as his wife Cecilia Abbott holds the family Bible used in the Inauguration Ceremony of Texas Governor in Austin, Texas.  Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Photo: Bob Owen, San Antonio Express-News / ©2015 San Antonio Express-News

As a fellow Christian I’m deeply saddened by your refusal to believe and live by your church’s pro-life stance. The sanctity of life is a beautiful foundation upon which stands staunch and near total support for the abolition of capital punishment. How is it you can support killing in the name of Texas?

In an interview with the San Antonio Express-News you said “there is no conflict” between your eager support for and your Church’s stance against the death penalty. I do not know whether your statement was out of ignorance or intent to mislead. But whether you were mistaken or chose to lie, one simply cannot promote the following words as truth as you did, “Catholic doctrine is not against the death penalty.”

Catholic social teaching as found in statements, catechism, and through the words of your popes clearly state that state-sponsored killing is far outside the will of God or the needs of the common good! In Texas, life sentences as an alternative to the death penalty are not only available, they are far more economically viable.

Read the rest of the letter here:


If someone were to ask you, “Are you interested in having a revived soul, wisdom to open your mind, a heart that rejoices, and spiritual clarity for your eyes?” what would you say?You’d probably jump at the chance to have a little more of that!

Well, unless it was in the form of a red pill from a street vendor.
But what if I told you these are all the natural fruits that grow out of engaging the scriptures? Which – if you’re prone to believe it – is exactly what the Bible says.
It’s definitely my desire to root HMC and my overall ministry in a love for the Bible!  Here are several previous posts about the Bible’s importance at HMC.
Given several inquiries of late, I wanted to share some suggestions for good Bible translations today. First off, there are a TON of great translations out today, and more coming all the time. You really can’t go wrong with any translation that you like or that looks and feels good to you. I hesitate to recommend the King James because it’s ancient sounding and lacks modern research, but beyond that, go for it.

At HMC we read from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) publicly, and I use it for study. This is GREAT for study but WEAK on poetry and imagination. It’s designed that way, to stay really close to the original but not really make your heart go pitter patter.

I love the New Living Translation (NLT); I used it exclusively when I was a youth minister, memorizing a ton of passages in NLT, and so I still find myself going back there regularly.
My top recommendation? The Voice.
It’s very current, and it is GREAT on the poetry/imagination/story front; it sounds amazing, and they have it outlined like a story script. So if Jesus is talking to Mary, they visually separate each of their speeches as “lines” in a play. It is also GREAT for study, with the best of today’s scholarship available. They ran the rough-draft scholarly translation through a whole line-up of artists (poets, musicians, filmmakers, authors, poets, visual artists, etc…) to come up with a no-longer-dorky-yet-faithful-to-the-original translation. I’m using this a ton these days in my own devotional reading and for fun. It just feels different and fresh, which, let’s be honest, is never a bad thing when you are reading stories from 3,000 years ago! Check it outhere.
Hope this helps! Remember, “The word of God, you see, is alive and moving” (Hebrews 4:12, The Voice).
Pastor Marty

I long ago reconciled with the fact I’m not wired for resolutions that demand a determined decision to a specific course of action. They’ve always felt like a teacher assigning daily busy work I was bound to turn in late or never at all.eyecare-optometry2

However, optically speaking, “resolution” simply means having the capacity to distinguish or discern objects clearly. And I’m always working to see more clearly. New reading glasses, followed by new prescription glasses this last year are a physical reminder of high and healthy optical resolution.

But what about spiritual resolution; or political, pop cultural, or racial resolution – is it possible to clarify or even improve how we see ourselves, God, and the world? And if so what would that look like; and what would it require from us?

I think it’s indeed possible, and abundantly necessary, to have clear spiritual sight. What’s required from us for high resolution spiritual optics is unwavering commitment to seeing the world through the lens of Jesus’ Gospel about the restoration of all things.

Like prescription eye wear, micro and tele scopes, a Gospel lens will necessarily change how you see almost everything – such as religion, relationships, reputation, politics, justice and what it means to be fully human. In fact, I think it clarifies pretty much everything!

In this regard Gospel is intimately connected to truth, such as the truth about yourself. As Paul says, “with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power (Eph 1:18-19).”

Gospel is also truth in that it shows the world at is really is. Wealth, power imbalances, peace through violence, and self-righteousness are all unmasked as morally missing the mark through Jesus’ Gospel lens. Such as the truth, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation (Luke 6:20,24).” Gospel truth isn’t always easy to hear! But it is always good (usually first and foremost for the marginalized (Matt 21:31-46) and those in need of a doctor (Matt 9:12-13)), and it always leads to personal and public transformation.

Sometimes the gospel requires us to discard old wineskins and mental models, throw around some tables in the robbers den, or painstakingly unmask some lies before the seeds of transformation can bring new life. Jesus, after all, fulfilled the prophecy that he would not stop “until he brings justice to victory (Matt 12:15-21).” Truth-telling is at the very heart of the restorative justice which will bring peace to our cities.

see-clear1I need to be able to see issues like immigration, affirmation of my LGBT friends and family, racialization in Ferguson, and war propaganda in film honestly before I can understand how God is present and calling me to act. The Gospel gives us the spiritual resolution to see these and other issues “with the eyes of our heart enlightened.”

So this year, here’s to good eyesight! Sight for our physical eyes to keep us in the right lanes of traffic and for our spiritual eyes to keep us on the straight and narrow!

Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas my dear friends! 

What a joy it was to sing these words Sunday in worship,

“O come thou DaySpring come and cheer, our spirits by your advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.” 

I for one needed to sing in order to have hope the darkness will not prevail; either in my heart or in our world.

Ya know, in a very real sense our Christian identity is birthed in the same way as Jesus was- through the Holy Spirit. John (3:3,6) and Paul (Rom 8:7-16) reflect on the Spirit’s necessary presence in forming faith- “you must be born of the Spirit!”

Which of course Mark and Luke suggest was central to the Christmas story about Jesus. We too are children of the Spirit.

But what does that actually mean? 

God's Christmas promise has both personal and public implications, all of which are best understood in shalom-peace, God's movement to restore all creation.

God’s Christmas promise has both personal and public implications, all of which are best understood in shalom-peace, God’s movement to restore all creation.

Buried beneath the tinsel and chocolate of our cultural Christmas, it’s always difficult to see Biblical truths for what they are. In absolutely no way does “spiritual” reference a disembodied, invisible, ethereal, otherworldly or non-physical essence; as if ‘the spiritual’ were somehow more important than the material world of bodies, blood, and budgets. No it’s much better news than Plato could ever offer! To be ‘spiritual’ means we’re infused with the values and passions of God’s Spirit. We’ve been shaped by Spirit ethically and volitionally to reflect divinity.

Take Isaiah 9 as a great example. The Promise of Christmas bursts into both the personal and public realm through Isaiah’s imaginative symbolism. The light shines in the darkness, putting death’s dark shadow to flight! A truly miraculous message for those struggling with mental health, the crushing weight of depression, or for the 22 military families a day who loose loved ones to suicide. This good news flows into the deepest recesses of our soul, cleansing shame and buried memories that hijack our best intentions.

As amazing as this message is for me this Christmas, the caring of God’s Spirit is much more limitless. Isaiah also celebrates the Spirit’s work in ending oppression (9:4) and warfare (9:5) as we know it; oppression is broken and violence sees its’ end through the powerful symbol of burning military garments.

This powerful symbolic speech challenges the mistaken belief in violence’s power to transform, and helps us imagine the pathway of nonviolence as a viable option.

Indeed, not only is it merely viable, nonviolence has a stunning record of effectiveness far beyond that of violence and warfare.

Scilla Elworthy’s powerful TEDx talk asks us, “How do we deal with extreme violence without using force in return? When you’re faced with brutality, whether it’s a child facing a bully on a playground or domestic violence — or, on the streets of Syria today, facing tanks and shrapnel, what’s the most effective thing to do? Fight back? Give in? Use more force?”

As we remember the angels’ songs for “peace on earth” heralding the birth of the “prince of peace” no one should be surprised at the efficacy of nonviolence and the power of peace.

Arming Ho Chi Minh to resist the Japanese in the 40’s didn’t work, nor did our support of Osama bin Laden to fight the Russians or Saddam Hussein to fight Iran. Why do we persist to believe the lie that warfare can bring peace?

Militarizing Ferguson hasn’t work. Torturing suspects after 9/11 didn’t (as it never has! Read this stunning article about how the US ignored ALL it knew about responding to security threats!) work. Ratcheting up violence to meet violence only forces the other side to ratchet even further.

Art Gish, non-violent resister to imperial war.

Art Gish, non-violent resister to imperial war.

MLK understood this, and resisted ratcheting up Bull Conner’s brutality when strong voices suggested it was the only way. Aun San Suu Kyi knew this as well in Burma, as did Ghandi who overthrew 200 years of imperial exploitation without firing a shot in India. And Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for his violent resistance but returned to transform a country through radical commitment to nonviolence rather than returning evil for evil. The twentieth century and early twenty-first century has seen hundreds of working examples of the power grassroots movements have in bringing change to oppressive and violent situations.

Elworthy asks of about the effectiveness of nonviolence, “Have you asked yourselves why and how so many dictatorships have collapsed over the last 30 years? Dictatorships in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Mali, Madagascar, Poland, the Philippines, Serbia, Slovenia, I could go on, and now Tunisia and Egypt. And this hasn’t just happened.”

She points directly to the work of nonviolent expert Gene Sharp, whose books outline over 200 strategies and tactics of nonviolent resistance to brutality that actually have worked in the 20th century.

Let’s celebrate more of that this Christmas!! The promise of Christmas captures the fullness of Gods peace, brought through justice by the baby who grows into our king.  The promise of Christmas flows not only into the deep recesses of our minds, but into the hidden patterns of racism, colonial resource grabs, and extreme power imbalances that fuel violence in places like Ferguson, Syria, and the Halls of our own government.

May God’s Spirit disperse ALL the gloomy clouds of night on this beautiful day- both far and nigh, personal and public! This is, after all, the breadth and beauty of Gods peace. In the Spirit we can (and must) courageously resist the temptation of color-blindness and embrace the path of color-bravery. Likewise, through the Spirit we can connect the wealth gap with global imperialism and the lies of militarism.

And, as children of the Spirit may we enter ever more deeply into the fabulous world of the physical here and now; where a table filled with bread, wine, and good friends is all that’s needed to believe in the Christmas promise- we like Jesus are born of Spirit. We can indeed be the peace we long for our world to know.

Isn’t it great to be human? 

Merry Christmas friends! Have a fantastic new year.

Watch Scilla’s TEDx below.

What’s all this talk about being “missional” mean anyway?missional-300x240

This is a strange new word I and others in Houston use a lot these days. But what do we mean when we say “missional”? For starters it might help to contrast it with the classic understanding of mission.

Foreign missions has to do with a sender (local congregation or mission agency) sending special people (missionaries) to a special place (over there!) to do special things (missions).

That’s not what missional living is all about.

Missional language invites us to imagine a new sender (God) who sends all people to the places they already live to restore all things. No longer do we compartmentalize super Christians who respond to God’s call to go and second class Christians who choose to stay. The concept of missional living infuses the very definition of “Normal Christian” with the call to partner in God’s shalom project right where we are by doing the very things Christ would do if he were living our lives.  It invites us to imagine things differently: God, the gospel, the time we are living in, the location we live in, and the ways we’ll spread and live the good news.

So when I say “missional” here are 10 Core Components of what I mean:

10. The core of the core of missional living is the missio dei (the mission of God). The “sender” is no longer church but God, who sends the Son, Spirit, and all followers into the world to join what God is already performing. All theology is viewed through this missio dei lens. Placing mission at the core of theology broadens our vision to see God’s loving restoration for all creation- things on earth and things in heaven.

9. The assumption of missional living is Post-Christendom.
We are living in a new epoch in which we can’t take the Christian-ness of culture for granted. Rather than assuming the culture is Christian and therefor all that is needed is to slip a new evangelized soul into an otherwise  Christianized cultural glove, missional sees culture itself as no longer “Christian,” and understands that significant portions of western Christendom have always been antithetical to Christianity.

8. The energy of missional living is outward. The church is no longer an “attractional” body but a sending body. God is already present in every human community, which is itself filled with assets and expertise. Thus our ministry is performed with people and never to them. Missional projects partner with and follow the lead of those we’re called to love. This allows us to resist classic missions which too readily lends itself to patronizing and patriarchal colonialism, replicating patterns of the “sending” culture.

gospel of westheimer stop sign7. The locations of missional living are the places where we live, work, and play. No longer the “special places” associated with foreign mission, but our context, our relationships, our cities. Missional thinking is thus radically contextual rather than universal.

6. The duration of missional living is sustained consistent long-term relationships over time rather than one-off events or projects. Mentoring, and relocating into the neighborhood you are called to restore are exceptional examples of this component.

5. The instrument of missional living is we not me: a community approach rather than the sending of individuals. Missional communities such as congregations or missional covenant groups act as a sign and foretaste of gospel for those they are called to love.

4. The goal of missional living is the restoration of creation (including people!). Christ followers demonstrate the gospel by seeking the common good, interpreting their actions with words. Missional views restoration – of both souls and systems – as one and the same project of partnering with God.  It’s not a new word to describe old actions (for most but not all of us). And because the goal is for “all” creation, it means that our context is intimately connected to the global village. War, fair trade, oil… all these issues are both global and local, what some call “glocal.” Fine examples include 19th century Evangelical’s social concerns, Germany’s Confessing Church, the Anabaptist movement, the Community Development Association movement, the black church’s role in liberating America in the 1960’s and infrastructural/economic development overseas.

3. The mobilization of missional living is of every person to join what God is doing. Missional living is a new movement to equip the laity, returning to the people what never should have been taken: ministry. Every Christian and person of good will is “special” and sent by God into ministry through vocation as much as volunteerism to bring restoration to our locale and global community.missional

2. The promise of missional living is transformation. God’s quest for the Peace of the city and salvation of humanity reveals a breathtaking love for “the world” God created and is recreating. It is loving restoration of both what is broken and those who are lost. God’s missional promise that “I am making all things new!” is intimately connected to the “abundant life” that Jesus promised.

1. The new normal of missional living is that everyone is called to be a disciple not just a church member. Daily discipleship to Jesus in a community on shared mission is normative Christianity.  Following Jesus is both an invitation and a deep challenge.

Hope this helps! What would you add? How does your faith community speak about or live our missional?