What’cha Reading?

books“Hey Michael, you need to read this.”

I hear these words often. When someone in my life who knows I’m a pastor reads a book they really enjoy (usually having something to do with Christianity or spirituality) they assume I would want to read it too. And while I genuinely appreciate the default impulse to think of me when reading a good book, I rarely get around to reading a book someone recommends. The reason for this is simply because I don’t have time to read all the books I want to read, let alone the books others want me to read. When I explain this to people, they are usually gracious and understanding (for which I’m grateful!), but these sorts of interactions have happened often enough to make me wonder: Is anyone curious about what I’m reading?

So for the two people out there who answered yes (I love you, mom!), I’ve decided to start a new blog series called “Whatcha Reading?” I have a couple motivations for this series.

The first motivation is for me. Writing these blogs will force me to think more deeply and slowly about what I’ve read. Instead of merely consuming books (so I can move on to the next one), these blogs will cause me to downshift, listen, and prayerfully consider how these authors’ words and ideas should change the way I think and live. And that’s a good thing.

The second motivation is for you. If I can expose you to authors, books, or ideas that cause you to read a book or at least consider how some of these ideas might spur you toward discovering or loving Jesus, his mission in this world, and your place within it more deeply – then I’ll be happy.

I’m not sure how often I’ll post. But when I do, each post will follow the same format:

  1. Title (with photo)
  2. Author (with bio and photo)
  3. Why This Book? (A brief description of how I heard about the book and why I decided to read it)
  4. What’s It About? (A short synopsis of the book)
  5. So What? (Some reflections on what I learned, why I think it matters, or ways I either think or live differently as a result)
  6. Favorite Quotes

Next week I will post my inaugural review. However due to the breadth and depth of the book under review, I’ll be breaking it up into two different posts. So stay tuned!

Oh, and if you read a good book, I still want you to recommend it to me.

Michael Carlson
Pastor / Chrio Church




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More Than A Song: Why Picking Fruit On Sunday Is Worship

Do you remember the song ‘Heart of Worship’ by Matt Redman?

I know. I know. Bringing up a song from 1998 dates oneself. But do you remember it? If not, you can have a cultural experience by going here.

As we’re wrapping up plans for our Sunday Service Day @ Alma Gardens my mind jumped to the part of the song that says,

‘I’ll bring you more than a song

For a song in itself

Is not what you have required’

90’s worship aside (and yes, I promise to put it aside after this post), do you believe what this song proclaims?

Does worshipping the triune God involve more than singing songs?

Further, does it extend beyond proclaiming the word?

Beyond gathering at the table to meet Christ in communion?

As a church family we certainly believe that worship includes each of these things but it also includes much, much more. At its core, worship is about integrating our lives with God’s life. It’s about re-centering our desires. It’s about discovering and then saying ‘no’ to our idols. And all of that involves more than singing songs.

Ok, so maybe you can get on board with everything I’ve said so far. But how about this:

Worship includes picking fruit.

As in oranges, lemons, and grapefruit.

Here are two reasons why:

  1. Serving Others Is Worship

On Sunday we’ll gather at Alma Gardens Mobile Home Park (530 S. Alma School Rd. Mesa, AZ 85210) to serve our neighbors. It may seem like an insignificant act of service for you to pick fruit off of trees but it’s not insignificant to our neighbors. You see when we remove the fruit from their trees it means that it won’t be on the ground or on the roof of their home. This means that rats (and other unwelcome rodents) won’t find any treats on or around our neighbor’s homes. Is that good news or what?!?!?

Can you imagine dozens of people, some who don’t know Jesus, saying ‘I’m so thankful those Christians came to my home today.’ While there are many things that bring a smile to our Father, this would certainly be one of them. And that—bringing joy to our Father—is part of what worship is about.

While serving our neighbors is enough of a reason for us to skip singing it’s not the only reason.

  1. Being in Community is Worship

When we gather together to serve it provides time for us to interact in a manner different than how we interact during a normal Sunday Gathering. We get to have extended conversations with one another as we work. We get to encourage our kids to see beyond themselves as they labor (and play!) in our midst. We get to eat a full meal together, as one family, with our neighbors. Being a people in relationship with one another—brothers and sisters in God’s family—asking questions, sharing stories, swapping recipes, holding each other’s children, and much, much more brings joy to our Father. This is part of what worship is all about.

These are just two components of a life lived before God and for his glory.

In his book The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton says,

For all of our apparent passion about God, in the end much of our worship seems to be mostly about us … (yet) Biblical worship that finds God will also find our neighbor (21).

On Sunday we’ll be saying worship is not just about us. On Sunday we’ll be saying we see you to our neighbors. On Sunday we’ll be saying, with our hands, worship can and should happen while picking fruit.

At 10am on Sunday February 12th—did you put it in your calendar yet?—a group of Jesus loving, neighbor seeing, God glorifying people will be picking fruit together. Our hope is that you’ll clear your schedule to be there. Oh, and from 11:30-12:30 we’ll have a potluck meal with our neighbors.


Well, as Matt Redman said, worship is more than a song.


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Invocation Dilemma – Offering A Prayer At The Mesa Public Schools Governing Board Meeting

“Will you offer a prayer at the Governing Board meeting for Mesa Public Schools?”

“Sure!”  I replied, not knowing exactly what that even meant.

This is how a meeting ended with a small group of leaders from Mesa Public Schools concerning refugees that are making their way into our city and how we as a community can best support them.

In need of deep wisdom on how to offer a public prayer in a multi-faith community like Mesa I did what any seasoned leader would do…

“Ok Siri. How do you offer an invocation?”

This was an honest question.

One well known Christian thinker rejects the opportunity to offer an invocation because of the fine print that often accompanies the invitation.

  • Don’t pray in the name of Jesus
  • Recognize this…
  • Say (fill in the blank)…

While I respect his perspective, is that really the best response?

Fortunately, the instructions that the Mesa Public Schools gives to those who offer an invocation is to pray according to one’s conscious.

So as I was considering how to pray my mind kept floating back to a letter in the Old Testament from the prophet Jeremiah to some exiles living in a multi-faith city called Babylon.

‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you…pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ (Jeremiah 29:7)

Here were some of my questions:

  • How can I pray a prayer that builds bridges with my neighbors but is also authentic?
  • How do I pray in such a way that differentiates the Christian faith in the Triune God from the faith of my neighbors?

Well, here’s what I did.


Thanks for the invitation and a special thanks to Board Member Jenny Richardson for the connection!

I’m one of the pastors of Chrio Communities, a Christian Church that gathers in West Mesa at Pedro Guerrero Elementary School on the corner of Alma School and Broadway.

I’m grateful to live in a city with much diversity and I’m grateful to have friends that are Sikh, Muslim, Mormons, Unitarians, as well as those who are Agnostic. I believe part of what makes Mesa beautiful is our diversity.

As a Christian, I’ll be praying in light of my faith in the triune God—Father, Son and Spirit. I invite you to engage this prayer in any way that you feel comfortable.

One more thing, the first portion of this prayer comes from NT Wright’s ‘Trinitarian Prayer.’

Will you pray with me?


Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: set up your kingdom in our midst.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God: have mercy on me, a sinner.

Holy Spirit, breath of the living God: renew me and all the world.


As we open this time of planning and evaluation we approach you God—Father, Son and Spirit.

We recognize your uniqueness, Father Almighty, because you made everything and the coming of your kingdom is the key to the flourishing of our community.

We recognize your uniqueness, Lord Jesus Christ, because we are not perfect. We need forgiveness. By your death and resurrection you open the door for us to live within the Father’s kingdom.

Holy Spirit, breath of the living God, we recognize your uniqueness too. You bring life. You bring love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness and much, much more.

These leaders here, our public school’s Governing Board need all of that! So come.

God—Father, Son and Spirit—move in our midst. Empower these leaders with wisdom and enlarge their hearts. Do the same for the rest of us too.


So that’s what I did. What would you do?






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Epiphany: Discovering and Display Jesus

January 6th was the first day of Epiphany. Since many Christians are not familiar with this season of the Christian Year, I want to post an excerpt from a booklet I wrote a couple years ago called Time for God: An Introduction to Living the Christian Year. If you’d like to learn (or be reminded of) what this season is all about and some ideas for how you might embody it this year, then this post is for you.

graphics-epiphany-812255Have you ever been in need of light? Maybe you’ve stumbled around in a room, stubbing your tow on a table-leg while searching for something. If so, then you know the relief and joy that comes with light (and the frustration of darkness!). If Advent is about preparing for the light, and if Christmas is about the coming of light, then Epiphany is about that light shining bright for the whole world to see. Historically, three events in particular are given special emphasis during Epiphany: the visit of the wise men from the East (Matt 2:1-12); the baptism of Jesus (Matt 3:13-17); and the turning of water into wine (John 2). Epiphany means “manifestation” and is about God revealing himself through the life, teachings, and miracles of Jesus.

So if this is what Epiphany is about, how exactly do we inhabit this season? By discovering and displaying Jesus. If you have committed to living the Christian year, you may be thinking, “Wait, I’ve already discovered Jesus. That’s why I’m doing this Christian year thing.” But isn’t it possible that there are ways in which Jesus wants to grow, even challenge some of our assumptions about who he is and what it means to follow him as a disciple? Actually, isn’t it probable? This is precisely what Philip Yancey suggests in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, when he writes,

bfbe7c8d7e581a7b105b61f6e1054752The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen, and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation as a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with a flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had uncompromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company… Two words one could never think of applying to the Jesus of the Gospels: boring and predictable (23).

As we seek to inhabit Epiphany, we’re invited to discover Jesus in new and fresh ways. To be surprised, humbled, and delighted by him – as well as confused and frustrated at times.

But we are not only invited to discover Jesus during Epiphany; we are also invited to display him. Imagine for a moment that a painful and deadly plague broke out and began to spread around the world. It infected everyone. You. Your friends. Family members. Neighbors. Co-workers. And imagine that there was no cure… until you discovered one. After successfully administering the cure to yourself, what would you do? Would you hide it and not tell anyone? (Of course not!) Would you sell it to the highest bidder? (I hope not.) You’d share it with everyone you know. You’d use every relationship, every communication platform at your disposal to get the word out so that everyone could be saved. Epiphany reminds us that Jesus is like that cure. He’s the one everyone needs. He’s the one through whom God wants to heal the whole world. Jesus tells his followers not only to “come and see” but also to “go and tell.” Through our lives, words, and actions, Epiphany invites us to become a living display of Jesus. As Bobby Gross puts it,

The one who summons us to himself sends us out on his behalf. The one who shows himself to us asks us to make him known to others. The one who declares, “I am the light of the world,” says to us, “You are the light of the world” (84).

Sacred Practices

During this season, consider adopting a new practice or habit that in some way embodies the heart of Epiphany. Feel free to choose from this list of suggested practices, or come up with one on your own.

  • Do Something to Rediscover Jesus – It’s so easy to remake Jesus in our own image, to assume he thinks like me, acts like me, votes like me. But the more we get to know Jesus, the more we realize how gloriously unpredictable he is and we’re reminded that the goal of knowing him is to be remade into his image (not the other way around). Here are some ways you might consider rediscovering Jesus this Epiphany season.
    • Read one of the four gospels in one sitting. It doesn’t take as long as you think! Or consider reading a gospel a week for four weeks. However you do it, pay extra close attention to Jesus as you read. Notice the stuff he says, what he does, how he he treats people. What upsets him? What upsets others about him? Make yourself a student of Jesus. It might help to write your observations in a journal as you read.
    • Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) once a week for five weeks (there are five weeks in Epiphany). That may sound daunting, but reading it is actually quite easy. The hard part is living it! Ask God as you read to help you become more like Jesus, who perfectly practiced what he preached.
    • Identify someone in your life whom you respect, who loves Jesus, and whose life resembles his in visible ways. Offer to buy them coffee or a meal, then as you’re together ask them to talk about their walk with Jesus. Ask them how they’ve cultivated a close walk with him. What spiritual disciplines do they practice? What have their challenges been? What doubts and questions have they had? What people, books, experiences have had the biggest influence on their faith?
  • Do Something to Display Jesus – Most parents are quick to talk about their children. Some people jump at the chance to discuss politics. Others could talk about sports all day long. It’s a fact of life that the stuff we enjoy talking about is usually what we love. If that’s true, why can it be so difficult to talk about Jesus with others? One way to inhabit Epiphany is to intentional do something that encourages displaying Jesus to others. The following ideas are adapted from the book Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross:
    • Ask Jesus to increase your compassion for those far from God and for greater courage to speak to them.
    • Read a book to sharpen your thinking about sharing your faith (Check out one called The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission by John Dickson).
    • Choose a few friends or coworkers or family members to pray for during Epiphany.
    • Become alert to openings in your everyday conversations where you can mention Jesus in a natural and interesting way.
    • If someone seems open, suggest going for coffee and some conversation about spiritual matters – be prepared to really listen to their experiences, beliefs and questions.
    • Invite a neighbor to come to a social activity with your Community Group or to a Sunday morning worship gathering.
    • Give a friend a thoughtful book on Jesus or the Christian faith (here are a few recommended books: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey; Who Is This Man? by John Ortberg; The Reason for God by Tim Keller)

Suggested Prayer Prompts

Use these prompts to guide your time of prayer. Rather than thinking of these as scripts that restrict or limit your prayers, think of them as conversation starters between you and God. Let them guide your heart and mind as you pray. Oh, and as you pray, don’t forget to listen.

Dear Lord…

In what ways does my understanding of you need to be challenged?
These are some of the things that I love about you… These are some things that confuse me…
Why is it so hard for me to talk about you with others?
Please burden my heart for those who are far from you.
What’s an area of my life that sorely needs to look more like you?
Thank you for the example of your life.


Michael Carlson
Pastor – Chrio Church

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A Profound Imprint: A Team Member Reflects on Her Experience in Njuruta, Kenya

new-desksIn the previous post, I explained Advent Conspiracy – how every year we challenge ourselves as a church family to prayerfully consider spending less and giving more. I described how this year we have the opportunity to provide desks for every student in Njuruta and why that’s such a significant need. I also asked you all to join us this year by helping us raise $5,000. This would purchase 80 desks for 160 students and would be a tremendous blessing to the community, especially the students.

To help paint a picture in your mind of who would directly benefit from these desks, here’s a brief reflection from Karen Lay, one of the members from Chrio’s team that went to Njuruta, Kenya this summer. The seventh and eighth grade girls she mentions are but a small sample of the many inspiring students in need of desks. Enjoy!

This morning as I met for coffee with a friend, I found it hard to express the profound imprint that the people of Njuruta have left on my heart. Yes, it was a blessing to watch Rachel and Lauren be enveloped in this community that they have grown up hearing about. And, it was amazing to see Preston embrace this culture and community and kids as he ran across the field or lifted children in simultaneous bicep curls. And, any heart would be moved by the dedication and love that the Food for the Hungry staff has for marginalized people and for doing God’s work. All of this was true, but for me personally, my heart was so drawn and captured by the seventh and eighth grade girls. These girls shared their burdens in a small group that Food for the Hungry facilitated. Rachel, Lauren, and I were just small participants, more like observers. Their struggles and burdens are so heavy, so overwhelming, yet they have so much hope and so much trust in God. The struggles are real and daunting, yet they faced them. img_5858One day, I was teaching in their classroom, not because I was scheduled, but because no one else was there to teach, so they asked me to teach. It was hours and hours of teaching. They just kept asking for more. They were worried about an upcoming exam in November which will place them in secondary school, and the exam is in English, so they just wanted me to teach as much as I could. At the end, they kept telling me that I would forget them, and I tried to assure them that I will never forget them, that they have made an imprint on my heart. The community of Njuruta is a hard-working, enduring community that has little but uses that little to do much. Thank you for your partnership and participation in Chrio’s relationship with these amazing people.karen-and-girls

Karen Lay

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The Gift of a Desk: An Advent Conspiracy Project

Every first grader has her or his own set of challenges. Mine involved things like struggling to beat the best tetherball player at recess or coping with the fact that everyone else seemed to have better items in their lunch box than I did (like snack packs and spicy Cheetos). But there’s one question that never entered my little first grade mind: I wonder if I’ll have a desk to sit at today.

at-desk-1A desk is essential to a good education. It provides a concrete place to sit, write, read, think, learn, ask questions, and socialize. Psychologically speaking, a desk also plays an affirming role in the mind of a child. It’s a strong and implicit way of telling a student, “You belong here. You have a place in this classroom. You and your presence here matter.” These are messages every child needs to hear. And this includes the students in Njuruta, Kenya, which is the community our church has been partnering with for about eight years now.

carrying-desk-1The sad reality is that Njuruta Primary School does not have enough desks for its students. Our team was reminded of this fact during our trip this summer. We saw children carrying desks from one classroom to another. We saw four even five students trying to cram into a desk built for two. And what we couldn’t see but undoubtedly felt was the subtle message, “You’re not welcome here,” that a desk shortage communicates to students who already have so much stacked against them. This is a problem, especially since investing into childhood education is the community’s primary, longterm strategy for combating systemic poverty. They need desks. And we can help.

Every year during the season of Advent, we challenge ourselves as a church family to prayerfully consider spending less and giving more. We call it Advent Conspiracy. This year we have the opportunity to provide desks for every student in Njuruta. What a privilege! Our goal is 80 desks. The cost is $5,000. Will you join us this year by investing into the education of these children?

In the next post, we’ll hear a team member share about her firsthand experience with some of these students and the indelible imprint one short week with them left on her heart. So stay tuned!

*If you’d like to give, you may do so online by entering the gift amount next to where it says “Advent.” Or you may give using one of our giving envelopes at our Sunday morning Gathering. Be sure to designate your gift by writing “Advent Conspiracy” next to the amount.

Michael Carlson

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A Contemporary Song Of Lament

Have you ever been confused or frustrated with God?

Who hasn’t ?!?!?

What’s remarkable about God is that he’s not put off by our hurts and hang-ups. In fact he invites us to bear our authentic selves before him in prayer. One way the Bible demonstrates this is through prayers of lament. A lament is an expression of pain and confusion to God that petitions him to intervene. Phrases like ‘How long, O Lord? How long?’ are common in these types of prayers.

An artist in our community wrote a contemporary song of lament that gives voice to pain in fresh ways.

You’ll notice that while the song boldly questions and ponders things like God’s timing and methods it keeps this questioning in the context of God’s love (I know that I am loved, that’s a promise that’s mine).

We pray that as you experience doubt, confusion, frustration and pain that you find ways (like this song) to express those emotions to the God who receives us and transforms us within difficulty.

Why can’t I live, apart from you?
What would I do? Sometimes I wish I could

And if Jesus is really a king why won’t my heart sing?
Why am I as bored as a stone, lonely and all alone?

And it’s breaking my heart, breaking my mind
I can only think now of relief I might find

Shouldn’t I have something more to show
for the times I’ve lived with you as my Lord
and I know I am loved, that’s a promise that’s mine
I’ll take your blessings but your calling I wish to decline

How much would I give to see you as you are?
But you hide yourself from me
Do you even hear me call?
If you are as great as you claim, couldn’t you have stayed when you came?
Life is all formless and cold, nothing has much of a soul

And I’ve made my decision, I know what I’ll do
Can’t go on living and giving to you

Shouldn’t I have something more to show
for the times I’ve lived with you as my Lord
and I know I am loved, that’s a promise that’s mine
I’ll take your blessings but your calling I wish to decline

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