28 June 2015

Joining others in protest and prayer

In our compassion, we don't like to see people suffer. And so our instincts are aimed at preventing and alleviating suffering. No doubt that is a good impulse. But if we really want to reach out to others who are suffering, we should be careful not to be like Job's friends, not to do our "helping" with the presumption that we can fix things, get rid of them, or make them "better." We may look at our suffering friends and imagine how they could have better marriages better-behaved children, better mental and emotional health. But when we rush in to fix suffering, we need to keep in mind several things.

First, no matter how insightful we may be, we don't really understand the full nature of our friends' problems. Second, our friends may not want our advice. Third, the ironic fact of the matter is that more often than not, people do not suffer less when they are committed to following God, but more. When these people go through suffering, their lives are often transformed, deepened, marked with beauty and holiness, in remarkable ways that could never have been anticipated before the suffering.

So, instead of continuing to focus on preventing suffering--which we simply won't be very successful at anyway--perhaps we should begin entering the suffering, participating insofar as we are able--entering the mystery and looking around for God. In other words, we need to quit feeling sorry for people who suffer and instead look up to them, learn from them and--if they will let us--join them in protest and prayer. Pity can be nearsighted and condescending; shared suffering can be dignifying and life changing. As we look at Job's suffering and praying and worshiping, we see that he has already blazed a trail of courage and integrity for us to follow.

From Eugene Peterson's introduction to Job in The Message.

22 June 2015

Move deeper in: some thoughts on Tullian

What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar.-Romans 3:3-4

Yesterday, the news came down that one of my spiritual heroes, Tullian Tchvidjian, stepped down from his pastorate at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church after admitting an "inappropriate relationship." I grieve for him. I grieve for his family. I grieve for Coral Ridge. I grieve for all of the people whose lives have been radically transformed by the message of God's one way love.

Here's the thing: lots of naysayers are going to come out of the woodwork now, not only condemning Tullian's actions, which are condemnable, but also the gospel banner he has carried proudly for many years. After not too much time, I suspect that we will hear people say, "see, you have to be careful with this message of grace. Don't get overbalanced. It's too dangerous."

NO! Jesus' one way love toward sinners--like me, like you, like Tullian--remains in full force! God loved me so much that in spite of my ongoing sinfulness he gave his only son, Jesus, to bear the penalty that I deserve so that I might live forever in restored relationship with him. If you are a believer, that is true for you too.  No exceptions. 

If you, like me, have been utterly wrecked and rebuilt by this message of profound grace for undeserving sinners, don't shy away from it when you hear of moral failings. Move deeper in.
Grace is our lifeblood.
Grace is the sinew that holds us together.
Grace is the muscle that propels us and the bones that hold us up.
Grace is every breath we draw.



12 June 2015

Book Review: Toughest People to Love

If I could put this book into the hands of every pastor and leader in the United States I would. Chuck DeGroat's Toughest People to Love: How to Understand, Lead, and Love the Difficult People in Your Life--Including Yourself (2014, Eerdmans) is a useful book on understanding people that has a high Christology and a realistic anthropology.

DeGroat opened the book by discussing the challenges of the pastorate. He pointed out that 80% of new pastors quit within 5 years. As I often say to my friends, people are messy. He discusses the ineffective ways that we tend to lead and why they don't work before he moves on to discuss our deep relationality and how understanding that is the foundation of all good leadership.

One of the terms that DeGroat introduced was "beautiful complexity"--that we are not only sinful, but God's image bearers. We must be careful of simplifying people and trying to fit them into neat theological boxes.

Part 2 which deals with "leading and loving difficult people" is particularly beneficial. Often, I think Christians are leery of psychological categories, but they can be helpful in dealing with people. As his friend Johnny LaLonde said to him, "Labels are helpful when they broaden our ability to understand and empathize with a person. They're destructive when they confine us and cause us to see the person more narrowly." Having said that, DeGroat introduces the reader to terms such as personality disorders (borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and histrionic) as well as addiction and foolishness.

As he continued through the book, he explored the benefit of the dark night of the soul, a call to wholeness, and useful spiritual disciplines. I particularly liked discipline 4: "The freedom to break the rules." I have been offering this piece of wisdom to some rigid folks I know and it helps them to discover a freedom they did not know was available.

Whether you are a pastor or not, whether you are a leader or not, I would strongly recommend this book. I have already recommended it to my pastor and will no doubt recommend it again.

09 June 2015

Book Review: Three Free Sins



This week, I read a book that at least a half dozen people asked me about just by seeing the cover. Every one of them questioned the title, which gave me a chance to talk about what a great book it is in spite of the provocative title.  So what is the book? Three Free Sins: God’s Not Mad at You by Steve Brown. 

Perhaps you, like many of my friends, hear me say that title and you wince, but give me a moment. If you are at all familiar with Steve Brown, he’s been around a long, long time. In fact, he refers to himself as “old as dirt.” He is a conservative, Bible believing seminary professor who has been telling people about Jesus for a very long time with his amazing baritone voice. But in the introduction to the book, he tells his readers that he has tried really hard to live in the “religious box” for a long time, a stiff container of legalism and lovelessness. Although the title catches almost everyone off guard, the message inside is pure gospel. 

Too often, you see, Christians use methods of discipleship that don’t work. For example, we inflict guilt or we hold up stories of “Bible heroes” without recognizing their dark sides. We present the Bible as a list of rules to be followed rather than a story of a God pursuing sinners right in the middle of their mess. We confuse law and gospel. What happens is not that we sin less, but that we get better at hiding our junk. And then we get self-righteous. 

Brown turns this whole approach to the Christian faith (which is ineffective anyways) upside down. He asks the question “What if the Christian faith isn’t about getting better?” Rather, what if the Christian faith is developing a deeper and deeper recognition that God loves us in spite of our sins—past, present and future. What if being a Christian really is about freedom, recognition of our need for Jesus, and the beauty of forgiveness? On page 87, Brown wrote, “I’ve found that the greatest need among Christian leaders isn’t for more commitment, more ‘religion’, and more ‘making an impact for Jesus’. What they need to be taught is that they are seriously sinful and God loves them anyway.” Bingo!

When we begin to recognize God’s love, grace, and forgiveness, something interesting happens. We begin to live as free people. We live fearlessly. We will get better when we aren’t watching and trying so hard. 

Three Free Sins is an amazing book. Don’t let the title scare you off. If you are a Christian, God. Is. Not. Mad. At. You. You are his beloved child. You are free.  I’m Jason Kanz for off the shelf.  

04 June 2015

One of my Favorite Sermons:Blessed Self-Forgetfulness

One of my favorite books is a short little book called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller. At just 46 pages, I can read it through in a half-hour or so and usually read it a couple of times per year. Earlier today, I was looking into buying copies of this book to give out to as many people as I could. I found that if I bought 100, I could get them for 1 pound each, but shipping was about half of that again. So, to get 100 shipped here would be $222, which is more than I want to spend.

But today, I came across the sermon that this little book is based upon. In fact, it is almost word for word and you get to hear Tim Keller's inflections and humor come through.  If you want to buy a copy, great. If not, I would strongly recommend the sermon. It will only take you about 35 minutes.


02 June 2015

My teachings: A repository

Occasionally, I am asked about teachings I have done in the past and I decided to catalog them on my blog as an easy way to point people to them. The list below includes audio from Cedarcreek, the Edge, WWIB, and HBO.

2015
Listen in: Building Faith and Friendship (WWIB)-June 8th
Fruit Salad: Love-May 31st
Crabb Conversations: Power of the Gospel (WWIB)-May 11th
Luke--a Careful Account: Responding to the Elder Brother-May 3rd
Crabb Conversations: with Larry himself! (WWIB)-April 13th
Luke--A Careful Account: Triumphal Entry-March 29th
Crabb Conversations: Inside Out(WWIB)-March 9th
Crabb Conversations: Inside Out (WWIB)-February 9th
Five Year Anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake (WWIB)-January 12th


2014
Crabb Conversations: Inside Out  (WWIB) -December 8th
Crabb Conversations: Inside Out  (WWIB)-November 10th
Redeeming Emotion: Joy-October 26th
Redeeming Emotion: Sorrow-October 19th
Crabb Conversations: Inside Out (WWIB) -October 13th
Redeeming Emotion: Fear-October 12th
Redeeming Emotion: Anger-October 5th
Saints, Scoundrels, and Sinners: Esther-June 15th
Saints, Scoundrels, and Sinners: Solomon-June 8th
Deny Yourself 3(Edge)-March 13th
Deny Yourself 2 (Edge)-March 6th
Clothed in Righteousness-March 2nd
Deny Yourself 1 (Edge)-February 27th

2013
Longing and Belonging-October 27th
Love Rejoices in the Truth-July 28th
Love is Patient-June 9th
Overcoming Shame-April 7th

2012
Santa Claus is Coming to Town-December 9th
Transformational Church: Relational Intentionality-October 7th
Judges: Levite and His Concubine-August 26th
Judges: Gideon Part 2-July 2nd
Judges: Gideon Part 1-June 24th
Mutual Protection-April 29th

2011
Antique Words: Legalism vs Liberty-April 28th
Antique Words: Atonement-July 3rd
Psalm 51-March 27th

2009
The Memory Loss Tapes (HBO)

Book Review: Law and Gospel--A Theology for Sinners and Saints

On February 20, 2010 a major shift occurred in my life. The pastor of my church read Romans 5:20-21 which says “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” I sat in the front of the church and wept. I think that was the day that I began to understand the difference between Law and Gospel. 

If you have no idea what I am talking about, a new book, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners and Saints, by William McDavid, Ethan Richardson, and David Zahl will provide a great introduction to the distinction. Briefly, God gave us both the law and the gospel but they have different roles. The law was never given as a means of salvation, the law was given to show each of us our absolute inability to live up to God’s perfect standard. It is the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a sinless life, was crucified on the cross, and was raised again to new life on my behalf that provides the power to save. It is Jesus who did the saving.

The first half of the book is dedicated to exploring the role of the law and how it has overtaken many churches. From pulpits all over America, we hear messages of do more/try harder/pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But we fail, again and again. The law tells us what to do, but it is impossible for us to do it and so we stand accused. When people recognize their utter inability, lots of people give up.

But, like good sermons should do, the book begins with the crushing power of the law, but finishes with the life giving power of the gospel. The authors show us that because of Christ’s love for us, he alone accomplished our salvation as a free gift. Then, in my favorite part of the book, they looked at the fruits of the gospel, of what Jesus did. The fruits they listed include: humility, receptivity, gratitude, spontaneity, humor, and freedom.

If you have struggled to understand what Paul was talking about when he said that we are free in Christ, or what I mean when I saw the law/gospel distinction, please get this book.  

29 May 2015

Book Review: A Fellowship of Differents

Since becoming interested in theology, I have always thought of Scot McKnight as a "different" from me. He understands certain theological issues differently than I do. However, I am a faithful reader of his excellent blog, Jesus Creed. More often than not, he causes me to think outside of my normal box.

In his book A Fellowship of Differents (Zondervan, 2014), McKnight takes a look at the church and what it should be, a salad with an abundance of unity, grace, and love. Christ's global church is a glorious community of differents, not a homogenized group of people who all look, think, and act the same. Unfortunately, the local church is too often one of boring sameness, which I think McKnight would argue is not God-honoring. When we spend all of our time in community that thinks and acts just like we do, we become weary of those who think differently and we begin to circle the pews.

As McKnight moved through the book, he encourages the reader to ask, "who is invisible in your church?" Do we create space for people of different races, socioeconomic groups, cultures, politics, and marital statuses within the church? Do we allow for people, wherever they are at on their spiritual journey, to come and find a place of welcome? McKnight gave ample space to grace, love, communion/unity, holiness, newness, and flourishing. One of the things that I most appreciated about this book is deeply it is grounded in relationship, which seems to be the core of Christianity.  In fact, he titled chapter 10, "We is Bigger than Me."

McKnight is a great communicator. Weaving narrative with humble theological reflection, A Fellowship of Differents is a beneficial book for the church. Like Bonhoeffer's excellent Life Together, McKnight challenges us to think about moving toward Jesus together. Regardless of your theological persuasion, you will benefit from this call to unity even if you find yourself disagreeing with McKnight on certain theological issues.

I received a complementary copy of this book from Zondervan and the Book Look Blogger Review program. I was not required to submit a positive review. The impressions written above represent my own thinking about this book. 

27 May 2015

My Top 10 Favorite Sermon Jams Plus One

Are you needing encouragement? Check these out? In fact, bookmark this page and visit it often.
 





















Summer Reading List

Last week, Mark Halvorsen sent me a link to Bill Gates’s summer reading list and asked if I would be willing to put one together for off the shelf. I happily agreed, but then came the question what should I include? As I thought about it, I had a few criteria. First, I wanted to avoid the heavy stuff, so you won’t find Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology on this list (as useful as it is). I also wanted to give our listeners a variety, to keep things interesting. So this list includes a mix of biography, fiction, non-Christian, and of course a little something from Larry Crabb. So without further ado, here are my 6 summertime reads:

Right at the top of my list, I am putting the Hawk and the Dove Trilogy by Penelope Wilcock. In the early 1990s, Wilcock wrote three books that were set in a 14th century Benedictine Monestary called St Alcuin’s. Admittedly, when I first heard that basic background, I was not hopeful, but as I began to read them, I couldn’t put the books down. Through the lives of the monks, Wilcock explores life and relationships in a deeply meaningful and engaging way.

The second book on the summer reading list is All of Grace by Brennan Manning. If you are unfamiliar with Brennan Manning, he was traveling preacher who couldn’t stop talking about the love and grace of God.  Although he is most well-known for his excellent book the Ragamuffin Gospel, All of Grace was written near the end of his life. They are his memoirs, his confession. You will be deeply moved by his story. 

The Great Divorce by CS Lewis is the third book on my summer reading list. As you may know, CS Lewis wrote many different books. In fact, many of you probably have read some of them like Mere Christianity or the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As good as those books are, The Great Divorce is my favorite Lewis book. In just over 100 pages, CS Lewis writes an allegory, or a story about what the afterlife might look like. The story opens with people at a bus stop waiting to go to heaven.  No doubt you will see a bit of yourself in some of the characters.

My fourth book is Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. In Daring Greatly, Brown explores the roots of shame that so many of us deal with and points us to a life of vulnerability and authenticity. If you are like me, you have spent much of your life wearing various masks to help keep people out of your mess, but Brown talks about the importance of taking off our masks.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is my fifth on my list. If you have never heard of the Pilgrim’s Progress, pay attention. This book was written by John Bunyan in 1677 when he was in prison for preaching the gospel. Since then, it has never been out of print and remains, after the Bible, one of the most popular books ever published. In it, Bunyan tells the story of a man appropriately named Christian who journeys from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. It is what is referred to as an allegory, or metaphor for the Christian life. If you have never read it before, don’t delay. 

The Pressure’s Off by Larry Crabb is my sixth book. As I was looking over my Crabb shelf at home, I was thinking that a book about getting out from under pressure and learning to live in the freedom of Christ is just what we need for the summer. Plus, my copy has two kids jumping into a lake. This summer, break free from rules and performance.

 These are just a few suggestions. There are so many good books out there. As Augustine said, Tolle Lege—take up and read.