31 July 2014

The Neverending Run

When I was in college, our residence life team was playing capture the flag before the academic year began. I spotted "Kimpy", one of our middle distance runners, in our territory and I took chase.  I kept up with him for perhaps 50 yards, much to his surprise.  Apparently, overweight throwers aren't supposed to be able to run fast.  But I've always been fast, at least over a short distance. Now in my 40s, get me out past about 15 yards, and my speed will flag quickly.  I think that's true for many of us--we can run well over short distances, but we struggle when the distances become longer. For some its 10 miles, for some its a mile.  For those like me, 100 yards is about my max. 

I think the same principle applies in relationships. Many church folk are good sprinters.  When someone needs advice, we stand in line eager to offer it. If someone needs a helping hand, we gladly pitch in. Hurting people are offered a meal or two. 

What the church often lacks are relational marathoners.  When a man continues to struggle with pornography even though we have given him twelve principles for purity and he wants continued counsel, we get tired. When a marriage is on the rocks and the spouses are hurting and broken, we don't mind expressing our sympathy, but what is it like for us to take their hand and walk with them down a long, hard road? How do relational sprinters learn to run with long term strugglers?

It seems to me that a big part of it is that we must stop sprinting. Hurting people and hurting relationships rarely "get better" after one bit of advice or a short conversation. They take time, lots of time, and investment. In their brokenness, people need to know that when things get really hard at mile 20, someone is still at their side, encouraging them along.

Practice investing in and loving broken people, even when the going gets difficult.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!-Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

30 July 2014

Flawed Saints

Contrary to the image we often try to portray to others, Christians are messy. We may directly or indirectly communicate that we have life all together, but none of us do. It seems to me that we are all flawed saints. 

What do I mean when by "flawed saints?"  I mean that we are people saved by grace. We bring nothing to the table. God saves us in the midst of our mess, not apart from it.  On the sanctification road, we remain flawed.  We are selfish, critical, irritable, lustful, angry, boastful, and proud. Even when our flaws are not evident to us, they are to others. I believe that our flaws are most evident in how we relate to others.  Others may feel rejected by us, hurt by us, or criticized by us, even if that is not our intent. 

But we are also saints. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul says that we are a "new creation." We are no longer merely flawed.  We are saints. Paul repeatedly refers to those in the church as saints, which means we are the set apart ones, set apart for God.  Not only were Peter and Paul saints of the church, if you claim the name of Jesus, you too are a saint.

And so we live in this tension, having been set apart by God, but also demonstrating our flaws to ourselves and others. Martin Luther referred to this as "simul iustus et peccator"--we are at the same time justified and sinners.  In other words, flawed saints.

My vision is that we would learn to live in that reality. That we would recognize that we are new creations in Christ and that other Christians are as well, but that we would also recognize, that we will continue to stumble this side of heaven. I hope that means we will give more grace to ourselves when we fail and to others when they fail us. 

Book Review: Speak

In her new book Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World (2014, Zondervan), Nish Weiseth encourages people to get in the habit of sharing stories with one another. On the back cover, she asks, "How would your life be different if you shared your stories rather than your opinions?" 

I was drawn to this book because I believe the question she is asking is an important one.  Part of what defines our humanity is that we live in relationship with others and each of us have our own unique stories.  We need to get into the habit of seeking to hear one another's stories, showing curiosity about who they are, where they have come from, and where they are going.

Between the covers of the book, Weiseth suggests that we are a divided people, inside the church and outside of it, which she attributed in part to our tendency to assert viewpoints rather than hear stories. She makes the case that stories can help to soften and change our hearts in relationship with other people and that even beyond that, hearing people's stories can help to encourage us to pursue justice and kingdom purposes.

On the positive end, Weiseth is a strong writer, having honed her skills through her blogging career. Within the book, she shares some of her own stories that help to make her point about their importance. She also included stories from other bloggers and the responses they received to further demonstrate how powerful stories can be.

On the other hand, I do have concerns about the underlying message of this book.  Although she did not come out and say so, I did have concerns that she was downplaying objective truth. As I read the book, I find myself wondering if she believes that when we seek to listen to one another's stories (which we agree is important), that we must said aside the reality that there is objective truth. Those navigating from a post-modern mindset are much more likely to accept relativism as a way of being. In other words, "my stories define truth for me, even though they may be different from your stories."  I believe this is a mistake, and perhaps it was not her intention, but Weiseth seems to represent the growing post-modernism in the church. My view is that we share our stories with one another, but also that truth is objective and it is often discoverable, even if it is uncomfortable. 

On the whole, her message about the importance of stories is one we all need to hear, but not at the expense of what Francis Schaeffer referred to as "True truth".

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

24 July 2014

Book Review: Messy Spirituality

I heard my friend Mark mention Mike Yaconelli's Messy Spirituality (2002, Zondervan) a couple of times and I liked what he mentioned. I stumbled upon a basically new edition of the book in a local used bookstore, pulled out my 2 bucks, and went home with my purchase. It was 2 bucks well spent; even the listed cover price would be appropriate for this gem.

Messy Spirituality is not a book for those who have it together in their spiritual lives. It is not for those who are pretty good at Christianity. It is not for straight-laced, well-behaved people who like their Christianity easily definable and controllable. Rather, it is a book for sinners, wretches, and rogues who have no hope apart from Jesus who loves them and lavishes them with grace.

This book will make a lot of people uncomfortable, especially the new radical believer who thinks that now that they are saved it will be all good days ahead and sin won't really be a problem anymore. A few years ago, I suspect it may have unsettled me.  If I am honest, there are still parts of what Yaconelli writes that make think, "can that be true?" Regardless, reading this books message of amazing grace makes me want to dance with joy. Yaconelli demonstrates how radically loving Jesus is right in the midst of our mess.

21 July 2014

A Day of Lament

Have you ever had one of those days? A day where it seems that nothing goes right, where bad news piles on top of bad news? Today has been one of those days. A day of lament.

For those unfamiliar with the language of lament, the Bible is full of cries of pain and sorrow. Too often, it seems that the "Christian" message we hear is one of happiness, comfort, and ease. That's not the Bible. Many of the Psalms speak of pain, yet worship in its midst. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, penned the book, Lamentations.  May we learn from these authors that we can worship in the midst of pain.  CS Lewis once wrote, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

May you read this psalm of lament and worship.

O Lord, I cannot catch my breath
Sorrow crashes like waves upon me
I draw a ragged breath, and I am pulled back under
I cannot find the surface

O Lord, where are you? 
I seek you in my distress
and yet all I hear is silence
I do not know where you are

I look around me and what do I see?
Pain upon pain,
Sorrow upon sorrow,
Hurt people hurting people

Yet, O Lord, in you I will place my trust
Let me not weary of recalling your steadfast love and faithfulness
You are a God full of mercy and compassion
who promises to wipe every tear

See Psalm 13, Psalm 22, and Psalm 88 for a few more examples. If you want to know more about lament, I would also recommend Michael Card's excellent book A Sacred Sorrow.

19 July 2014

Relationship Monday: Men and Women

Last Monday, Mark Halvorsen and I discussed the first chapter from Larry Crabb's book Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference.  We focused primarily on the following ideas:
  • People are wonded, and people are self-centered. We must decide which is the greater problem.
  • Self-centeredness is the killer. In every bad relationship, it is the deadliest culprit. Poor communication, temper problems, unhealthy responses to dysfunctional family backgrounds, co-dependent relationships, and personal incompatibility--everything (unless medically caused) flows out of the cesspool of self-centeredness.
  • "Original sin" means we all originate out of a sinful world which taints us from the word go. We all tend to make ourselves the center of the universe.-Frederic Buechner
  • We are too quick to resent and feel what we suffer from others, but fail to consider how much others suffer from us. Whoever considers his own defects fully and honestly will find no reason to judge others harshly.-Thomas a Kempis.
These ideas provided wonderful fodder for a fruitful discussion. We will continue talking about the book on Front Page on WWIB at 10:00 on Monday July 21. We pre-recorded the session and I think there is much to think about!

You can listen to last week's podcast here.

Twelve Thirty

May I love the Lord
     with my whole heart,
          from the heights of joy, to the depths of sorrow
          from the calm peaceful days, to the anger filled storms
     may worship issue forth from my whole range of emotions.

May I love the Lord
     with my whole mind,
          submitting all of my thinking to the Lordship of Christ
          taking every thought captive in service to Him alone
     may reason, which issues from God, be offered back to Him.

May I love the Lord
     with all my strength,
          my will bent in obedience to the One who saved me
          my hands busied in service to my King
      may my love for God be one of action and intention.

May I love the Lord
     with all my soul,
          from the core of who I am
          from the absolute center of my being
     may my whole life be given in service to my King.

-a reflection on Mark 12:30

10 July 2014

Another relationship Monday

Next Monday, July 14th I again have the privilege of being on Front Page with Mark Halvorsen at 10:00AM.  Listen in as Mark and I discuss Larry Crabb's book Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference. If you want to learn more about marriage or how to be other focused, listen in.

If you want to hear last month's discussion on fatherhood, you can listen to the podcast here

09 July 2014

Book Review: The NIV Journey Bible

I've been reviewing quite a few Bibles recently and they have held various appeal. Though the text itself is invariable, the accompanying notes for each Bible show considerable differences in quality and usefulness. The NIV Journey Bible: Revealing God and How You Fit Into His Plan (2014, Zondervan) may be the best of the bunch so far. It is evident that the editors were seeking a specific market with this offering.

The Bible itself is no goatskin Cambridge Pitt Minion (if you are unfamiliar with Bibles, search for it. It is a thing of beauty); it is a rugged, trade paperback with no fancy coloring and a simple sketch on the front. Everything about its construction suggests utility rather than beauty, which is part of its appeal. Weighing it at about 2 pounds and 1700 pages, its maybe a little larger than I would have expected for the entry market, but not so much that it detracts from the overall product.

In terms of what's inside, I really like this book. It makes use of the always popular NIV translation, a perennial favorite and one that is easily grasped, yet the editors attempted to remain faithful to the text.  The real selling point for me, however, was the notes. Unlike most new Bibles, all of the boring, academic stuff was moved to the back of the Bible, which was a wise move. In fact, right on page one, there is a single page letter from the editors that is deeply inviting to readers. From that point forward, everything in the Bible is geared toward the person who is hoping to learn more about God. In the introduction is a section on "how to seek God" that includes basic questions (e.g., What limitations are you putting on what God can ask from you?) and then seeks to answer them. Practical helps abound.

Several different guides are offered for the person who wants an exposure to the Bible. In addition to including all 66 books, they offer a 4 page "summary of the Bible--in its own words", which was quite unique and beneficial. This was followed by a short section on "Who is Jesus?" that answers basic apologetic questions in plain language. What I really appreciated was the "Five Alive" reading plan, which gives a sweeping overview of the Bible by having the reader cover Genesis, Deuteronomy, John, Acts, and Romans in 30 days.  I will actually recommend this plan now to those new to the word.

Throughout each book, there are interspersed notes, testimonies, answers to common questions and how we can know ourselves.  Each of these contributes to the overall sense of this being a useful Bible for the one who is new to the faith or wondering what Christianity is about.

I would happily recommend this Bible to anyone who wants to get to know Jesus better. Everything about this Bible seems to be wisely designed with that singular purpose in mind.  At a list price of about 23 bucks, I would like to see it about half that, but I guess we can't have it all. 

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Real Church: Does It Exist? Can I Find It?

Sometimes, after we have made it through the first few pages or chapters of a book, the only thing that keeps us going is the reputation of the author. For me, Real Church: Does It Exist? Can I Find It? (2009, Thomas Nelson) by Larry Crabb was just such a book. I have read nearly all of Dr Crabb's books and had  the honor of receiving spiritual direction from him. It would not be too much to say that he has been one of the most important influences upon my thinking about church, relationships, and life. But when I began Real Church, I found myself uncomfortable. In the early pages of the book, he boldly claims that he has essentially grown tired of church and really doesn't want to go church. When I read his words, several different things stirred in me. I still like going to church. Every week, so I have a hard time relating when he says he doesn't want to be there. I also found myself pondering the more general question, "is he allowed to say that and still call himself a Christian? I mean, is it okay?"  (Dr Crabb has a way of writing things honestly that most people are reluctant to voice). I have to admit, if this book was written by a different author, I don't know that I would have continued beyond the first few chapters. But this was Larry, a man whose wisdom I have come to value. I am glad I persisted.

After writing about what makes him uncomfortable with the modern church, he sets out to explore what church could be, a community of honest believers, sharing in one another's struggles over the long haul, all while giving glory to God. The picture he paints would be radical to most churchgoers; for example, he proposes spending ten minutes at the opening of church with everyone journaling about where they are at in the moment (their red dot) and then inviting people to share. Radical, but refreshing.

I suspect if you are accustomed to the American status quo, this book may unsettle you, but give it a chance. What Dr Crabb is envisioning could be transformative.