Pressing On, Pressing In

So, I’m learning a ton about myself, a ton about faith, and just a ton in general. There have been multiple times in my life when I’ve felt like I’m drinking from the firehose, this season is certainly one of them.

For anyone who has been following my story, my family and I are launching out and planting a church in the next year. It’s something that’s been on our heart since we left Asheville, North Carolina almost eleven years ago.

There are a number of reasons why it’s taken us this long to do it. To be honest, I think that God had a lot of work that he needed to do in me before I was ready to launch out. And honestly, I still don’t know how ready I am, which is probably a good thing. If I felt completely ready and capable, I would probably be relying on my own strength rather than the strength that God gives me.

Since we made our announcement about the plant, I’ve gone through all kinds of waves of emotion. There have been moments of joy, moments of sorrow, moments of doubt, moments of confidence. One thing that is consistent is my daily realization that I cannot do this alone. Not only as an individual, but also not without God’s help in all of this.

I was educated as an engineer. Two degrees. Some people are tired of hearing me say that, but I bring it up because engineers pride themselves in having the answers. In fact, I always prided myself on having the answers to questions that still hadn’t been asked. But where we are right now, this reliance on things that we can’t see, it’s totally out of my norm, I just don’t usually operate this way. I want answers. I want control. I’m not finding a lot of either right now, and I think I’m okay with that.

But this is a different season. I’m trying my best to press on and to press in. I am doing my best to trust and to have faith. I don’t have all the money that I need for the upcoming year. I don’t have all the particulars of what this church that we are starting will look like. I don’t even know for sure where it is that we will be meeting. And you know what? I’m actually okay with all that, and I think that it’s perfectly acceptable.

It’s actually a big step for me to be where I am and I didn’t get here on my own. Some may think I am being reckless. Some may think I’m hanging on to outdated beliefs. I have seen too much in my life, both good and bad, to not believe.

So, we’re pushing on and I am excited to see what God will do. While I may have some unique strengths and gifts, I know that none of this can happen without God. Like Moses in the wilderness, I stand where I am saying, “If you do not go with us, we will not go from this place.” That’s my sentiment. Exactly.

I’ll keep updating here. I’ll keep hanging on to the faith that I have. After all, faith is the assurance of the things that we hope for, the things that we can’t see. Here’s hoping and here’s faithing!!

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A Light So Lovely – A Book Review

A Light So LovelyIf you have been educated in public schools sometime after 1970, chances are that you are somewhat familiar with the name Madeleine L’Engle. You may have even read her most famous book “A Wrinkle In Time.” But Ms. L’Engle was so much more than an author of this fantasy/science fiction young adult book which garnered so much attention and was most recently made into a movie in 2018.

In her book “A Light So Lovely” Sarah Arthur undertakes a labor of love to take her readers on a journey through this complicated woman whose faith caused her to forge a path that many have been afraid to travel. L’Engle was not afraid to speak and write freely of her faith, incorporating it into the stories that she would write.

As Arthur writes in the introduction, “God uses imperfect people, in every generation, at each unique point in history, to accomplish his purposes.” And that’s just what he did with Madeleine L’Engle, an imperfect person with an imperfect faith but a passion and zeal for expressing that faith beyond her own flaws and imperfections.

Arthur takes her reader on a journey through some of the many books that L’Engle wrote. She also incorporates conversations and interviews that she had with those who knew L’Engle even incorporating her own words. Arthur paints a portrait of a woman who was flawed yet determined to break the mold that many had cast in the area of young adult writing.

But L’engle could not be confined only to young adult fiction as she also ventured into the world of non-fiction, exploring her faith in books like “Walking on Water,” a book that has become a primer for those who embrace faith in Christ and yet also seek to allow the creativity that they have been given to be expressed outside of the norms that have been imposed by the Christian subculture

As I read “A Light So Lovely,” I found myself scanning the internet for the countless books that were mentioned by Arthur. While I knew of some of them, this book opened my eyes to not only the expansive catalogue written by L’Engle, but also to this woman whose creativity and willingness to use it has influenced generation and beyond of Christian artists and writers.

Sarah Arthur’s love for Madeleine L’Engle is evident on every page in this book. She takes her time to explore the many facets of L’Engle, good and bad, willingly revealing her, warts and all. Arthur leaves the reader longing to imagine themselves sitting down to a cup of tea with L’Engle, exploring issues of faith, creativity, science, and beyond.

Whether you are familiar with Madeleine L’Engle or not, this book is a worthy read. To get a glimpse of this complicated woman is worth the time it takes to thumb through these pages. If you have grappled with the tension of the sacred and the secular before and have felt unfulfilled by some of the empty offerings found within some of the writing of the Christian subculture, this may be a book that you want to give a try. You may just find yourself encouraged and inspired, finding hope that others have journeyed along this road less traveled and emerged along the way and at the end with scars and stories worth telling.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Made For These Times – A Book Review

made for these timesIn the introduction to “Made For These Times,” Katelyn Beaty says it well of who Justin Zoradi is and his contribution to society. She writes that Zoradi is, “a living testament to the notion that our lives are not to be hoarded for ourselves, but to be poured out for others to bring life, freedom, and kingdom hope.” She goes on to say that the kind of life that Zoradi promotes is countercultural, and upside down compared to the culture in which we live. It’s a high bar to set as the reader dives into this book, but I think that the praise Beaty gives to Zoradi is well-deserved.

“Made For These Times” is a book about purpose, about calling, about vocation, about eulogy virtues. How do we make a difference? Is it really possible to make a difference? Can we really make a difference while still valuing our relationships with our spouse and children?

Zoradi tells his own story interspersed with the stories of others who have arrived at a similar place that he has. His faith plays a significant part in telling the story as he seeks to make a difference. But he understands his own part in the story and that he is able to do what he does because of who he is in Christ. He also shares that it is impossible to do everything and, in fact, we aren’t supposed to do it all.

As Zoradi writes, “God prefers our efforts to be unfinished because it allows him to bring in others who will pick up where we left off. You cannot do everything.” It’s a significant conclusion to come to for someone as young as Zoradi, especially considering that there are countless stories of others who have sought to do significant work in their lives who paid the price of broken relationships, families, and even personal health.

I am sure that there will be critics of this book who consider all that Zoradi writes to be sensationalized fluff. I would respectfully disagree with anyone who might think that. Having abandoned one successful career to pursue something that was a calling rather than a career, Zoradi’s words resonated with me. In fact, this book was such an encouragement and confirmation for me to continue to pursue those things that are not necessarily successful in the eyes of the world or culture, but that have the potential for making a significant difference in the few people with whom I interact.

If you are sensing that there is something more to life than simply your 9 to 5 job, pick up a copy of this book. Zoradi will inspire you to live beyond yourself, to seek values that contradict those all around you. You may just find that taking that bold step towards the unknown was the best decision of your life because you were truly made for these times, made to make a difference.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

When Faith and Trust Are Shattered

broken crossThe headlines in recent days have surfaced of allegations not only of Catholic priests who have been accused of child sex crimes, but also that the Pope knew about some of the allegations and did nothing about them.

Meanwhile, over in the protestant world, Willow Creek Church is still trying to crawl out from the dust and wreckage that surrounded their founding pastor, Bill Hybels, and alleged indiscretions as well as the unwillingness of both him and leadership to take responsibility.

Let’s not forget the countless Hollywood actors, producers, and others who have wielded their powers to abuse and take advantage of women.

As I read these headlines, my heart is heavy. It is heavy for the victims who lie in the wake of those who have had power and abused it. Wounds are bad enough but the pain intensifies when the one who has caused them makes no account for their responsibility in causing them.

My heart is also heavy because of the witness of Christ to the world. Unfortunately, those who are not a part of the church, who may look suspiciously at organized faith and religion, do not distinguish between God and those who claim to follow him. We will ultimately judge God by those who claim to follow him. Our judgment of God will be based on the fallibility and brokenness of those who stumble and fall as they follow.

As a pastor, I have a conscious awareness in my bones that, right or wrong, people’s perception of God may be heavily influenced by my representation of him. How I live and act, for the good or bad, will be directly linked to my association with God. I’ve not encountered that frequently when I do something right or when I live well, but it becomes center stage the moment that I step out of line and my flaws are readily apparent.

But allegations such as these are not new, we’ve seen them for years. The Catholic church has been embroiled in controversy before. In fact, it seems like this kind of controversy resurfaces every few years as the victims gain confidence and realize that although they have desperately tried to stuff down their emotions over past events, their courage and the voice of truth needs to stand tall.

Why is it that it seems that men in positions of power abuse that power? Does power really corrupt?

When I read of situations like this, it affirms my belief in the depravity of man, that each and every one of us have been so deeply impacted by sin that our natural tendency is towards it at every turn. The emotional rush that is felt from that power that one gains in authority can easily push someone to that place where they legitimately think that they are the savior and that nothing that they can do will ever lead to dangerous consequences.

As a pastor, people invite me into some of the deepest moments of their lives. When someone is sick or dying, when someone has died, when there is marital conflict, where there is doubt, these are the moments when people seek the church, they seek the face of God, and what they can often find there is the face of a broken and hurting individual who has the potential for allowing their own brokenness to drive their actions.

When someone comes looking for Jesus and instead finds Judas or something worse, their faith and trust are shattered.

How many tears will we continue to allow to fall before this stops? Why have we not set up better guardrails to protect the broken and hurting? Why do we continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results?

I am grateful for the boldness of those who have come forward to bravely speak the truth. I pray that even in that bold step, they experience some amount of healing. I pray that they might see beyond the fallible and fallen people who have misrepresented Christ to them and see a savior who weeps with them in their pain. A savior whose heart beats for justice and compassion. A savior whose response to power and authority was to become a servant to all and to criticize and knock down the subversive and abusive powers of the day.

I am grateful that I have found a place where there is accountability and structure, oversight and connection to make sure that I am careful with the authority that has been afforded to me. It is far from perfect, it is still man-made, but it provides for more than I’ve seen in some cases.

May those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ be ready and willing to hear the stories of those whose faith has been shattered. May we listen without judgment and pray for understanding. May we represent Christ as a fragrant aroma, gentle and pleasing, rather than the harsh smell that has emanated from those who have misrepresented him. May we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn the loss of their innocence and may we show the compassion of Christ that led him to willingly sacrifice himself for the sake of even those who hated him.

And to all those whose faith and trust have been shattered, please know that you are loved by God. Know that despite the distortion of love and authority that has been shown to you, there is a God who wields his power not with a heavy hand and a selfish heart, but with a gentle hand and a heart that saw fit to give his only son for the sake of freedom, salvation, and restoration from the things that destroy and corrupt. May you experience and see Christ as he is, not as he has been misrepresented by others.

Here we go!

ashlandFor those people who know me, being in full-time vocational ministry is a second career for me. Prior to becoming a pastor, I was an engineer, moving up the ranks within the company, getting licensed, getting trained, becoming a project manager. I kept doing what I was supposed to do and found that it was very unfulfilling for me.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the work. It wasn’t that engineering was a bad field. It was really that it wasn’t what I was made to do. I’ve met lots of people who find fulfillment in the career that they were led to right out of college. I was not one of them.

Since my wife and I stepped away from all that was familiar to us back in the Spring of 2004, God has continued to do a work in me. Every few years, I can feel God stirring within me again. I ask myself a similar question repeatedly about whether I have begun to coast along, check the box, or phone it in. I’ve come to realize that life is far too short to do any of those things.

Losing both of your parents before you turn forty has a way of making you rethink things. I had two wonderful parents who were far from perfect but who taught me a ton about what it means to have faith and to live your life allowing that faith to inform who you are and how you live. While my father may have become a little more comfortable than he should have in some ways, he continued to be an example to me of living out his faith in a real and meaningful way.

Over the last year or so, my wife and I have felt the stirring again. It hasn’t been because of a frustration so much as just a stirring within us for something different.

I had gone to a conference which focused on racial reconciliation a little more than a year ago. As I sat and drank from the firehose, I realized just what a privileged life I had lived. I committed to knowing and learning more to see what I could do to be a part of seeing God’s diverse and multi-cultural kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

I connected with a pastor’s racial reconciliation group. I entered into conversations with others about my own complicity in the racial tensions that swirl around our country. I read book after book to try to gain a better understanding of where we are and just how I can get “woke” and help others get there as well.

I realized early on as a pastor that I could not be the guy who got up on a Sunday to preach a sermon that I hadn’t begun to live out myself. Every time that I stood in front of a congregation to preach, God had already been working me over to begin to embrace and try to live out what I was saying. As hard as I tried to avoid it, God continued to pull me back and stir my heart.

Not too long into our time in Virginia, I was introduced to a place called Ashland. It had hit the national media years ago when the D.C. sniper had ventured all the way down there to claim one of his victims in the parking lot of a Ponderosa located within Ashland.

Ashland is a different kind of town. Part Mayberry and yet also feeling like a small city, the down town area has a quaint and winsome feel to it. You take a stroll through the streets looking in the shop windows as the trains run right through the center of town. There’s no protection from the train, no fences to keep you away. In some ways, it feels like Cheers, it could easily be a place where everyone knows your name.

Randolph-Macon College is located towards the center of town, a small liberal arts college with more than 1400 students. Interstate 95 runs through Ashland, drawing travelers and drifters. The population is more mixed than some of its neighbors with approximately 70% of the population being white, 17% being African-American, 4% being Hispanic, and the rest being a mix of other nationalities. Ashland is a town that truly contains both those who have a lot and those who have next to nothing.

As the church that I have been a part of has made efforts to reach out in the Ashland community over the years, we gained little traction. As God continued to break my heart for the people of Ashland, I prayed and pondered over why our efforts seemed to remain mostly fruitless. I spoke with other pastors and people who had reach out to glean from their learnings and even from their mistakes.

The word that rang in my head through all my ponderings and prayers was, “incarnation.”

We usually hear the word at Christmastime as we speak of God putting on flesh and blood and stepping into time and space to become one of us. God didn’t do that because he was lonely or bored, he did it because this was his perfect plan. The way that God would achieve his perfect plan of redemption was to come and live among us, to move into the neighborhood and show God to the world.

I couldn’t help but think that God’s perfect plan was not only for his redemptive purposes but also to model to us just how we are to live. Just as Christ showed the Father to the world, so the Church is to show Christ to the world by living incarnationally. The Church is the bride of Christ and God’s plan to reach the world involves a tainted and imperfect bride who is daily being redeemed.

After months of wondering and worrying about next steps for my family, God was leading me to a place where he was calling me to step out in faith. The circumstances surrounding it all seemed to have made it nearly impossible to deny and impossible to walk away from what God had been setting up and doing. God was calling us to step out of the boat to do something different. He was calling us to live incarnationally by focusing on a community.

That’s where we are, at a place of faith and trust. While I’ve watched and encouraged others who have planted churches before, I’ve never done it myself. I am generally a quick study, but I’m also not afraid to make mistakes along the way. We’re stepping out to see what God will do.

Some have asked whether our church is splitting. That’s not the case at all. My lead pastor and I have spent countless hours praying and crying and talking about what God is doing. We are multiplying for the sake of God’s kingdom work. We are allowing God to do something different in us and through us.

For a recovering engineer, answers are important to have, but they aren’t coming as fast as I would like them. We are slowly moving to the place where they come into view. We don’t know where we will meet. We don’t know exactly when we will start to meet. We don’t know exactly how this will all be funded. But we trust that God has truly called us to this work and in trusting him, we trust that he will provide all that we need to accomplish what he has called us to do.

It will be different, like nothing I have done before. This needs to be a place that is for Ashland because God loves Ashland. I am terrifyingly excited about what lies ahead. I’ve said before that we need to dream dreams that are big enough that only God can accomplish them, I’m pretty sure that this is just the kind of dream that I’ve been talking about.

High Impact Teams – A Book Review

high impact teamsThere were two feelings that I had as I read through “High Impact Teams” by Lance Witt. The first one was as if I were drinking from a firehose. You know the feeling, feeling completely inundated with information, good information, that you didn’t know just how you could sustain it or where you would put it all. The other was the sense of understanding that comes when the conclusions that someone else has come to seem to align with conclusions that you have come to on your own.

“High Impact Teams” could very well have been subtitled, “A handbook for building and sustaining healthy teams.” The process of building and maintaining healthy teams in any organization is a challenge, but it seems that the effort within churches may be an even bigger struggle. In the business world, pushing forward can happen with little effort given to the feelings for the individual. Not always the most effective or intelligent approach, but it happens nonetheless.

Within the church, efforts to move forward can often be encumbered by excuses to not hurt people’s feelings or to give them the benefit of the doubt with second chances or third chances or beyond. But Lance Witt talks about having to say, “No” to people and programs. He talks of identity and finding it not in the programs and activities that we build, but in Christ.

Through eight separate sections of the book, Witt tackles practical and difficult topics in order to build and maintain healthy teams. He talks of emotional health and the need to be balanced in who we are in Christ to let our teams move towards a similar place. He talks of the relationships with people and the need to prioritize them before the goals that we are trying to achieve. He talks of conflict and just how important it is to hit it head on rather than walking around it and doing everything in our power to avoid it.

Over and over again, I found myself pulling out my yellow highlighter to whole sections of this book. As Witt spoke of organizational DNA and the things that both hinder and help it, I was taking mental notes. He shares with wit and wisdom his own experiences, humbly admitting the times in his life when he didn’t get it right as well. There may be times when his gleanings seem more like wisdom from the business world, but the organization of church can gain insights from those kinds of experience.

“High Impact Teams” will find a place on my bookshelf where I can reach for it and delve into the insights again and again. It’s a helpful handbook for those who are truly seeking to create a healthy environment where God can carry out his work. It’s not even necessary to read this book from front to back. I expect that everyone leading a team can benefit from at least one of the sections in this book, so even just reading the individual sections, this is going to be an asset to the bookshelf of any leader inside and even outside of the church.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Light Momentary Afflictions

2 Corinthians 4.jpgThe other night, I spent a few hours on a video call with some good friends from seminary. We realized during our call that we had known each other for ten years. As we took turns sharing updates about where our lives have been going since the last time we all connected, there were up and downs, celebrations and victories, difficulties and challenges.

I have been so grateful for these four brothers over the years. During our time in seminary, I wasn’t always crazy about traveling to Minnesota twice a year, especially in the thick of the February Minnesota winter. I wasn’t crazy about all the classes that we had to sit through either. The one thing that I always looked forward to, though, was what happened when class was done for the day. Even though our days were full, we would spend evenings talking about ministry and how we were being shaped and formed to see things different than what we had experienced or been taught.

While it was great catching up with everyone, when we disconnected, I felt heavy inside. It wasn’t because of the company, it was because of the subject matter. Over the course of our conversation, we talked about life challenges, particularly the loss of parents, something that was near and dear to my heart. Out of the five of us, only me and another friend had lost a parent, but everyone was well aware that it was inevitable to face and something that they were all interested in hearing about, learning from what we had experienced for ourselves.

It’s not every day that you can have meaningful and deep conversations with people. While my heart was heavy with what we had talked about, my heart also felt full having experienced brotherhood, love, and friendship through our conversation. But it sure did remind me of the gravity of life.

A number of other things had happened leading up to this conversation with my friends. My dad’s birthday was last week, always a reminder to me that he is no longer here. While the deepest part of my grieving for him has passed, I don’t think grieving is ever fully over or complete, nor do I think that it should be. Our grief reminds us of how temporary we are and it also reminds me where my hope should be found.

The day after my dad’s birthday, a dear family in our church who has endured significant hardships over the years lost their house in a fire. They also lost their dogs in the fire. This same family had lost their son last fall after a long nine and a half years since surviving a tragic car accident. The fire in the house spread quickly and within a few hours, everything was lost, including their dogs.

As I drove to the house to be with the family as they watched firefighters try to fight this fire, I found myself at a loss for words. I muttered a few obligatory words to God in prayer, and then I honestly told him what I was feeling. I didn’t really know what else to pray than those honest words, crying out on behalf of a family who had already seen and experienced such loss. It was one of those moments when I really wondered why God allows certain things to happen.

On the heels of all of these things, I drove into work the other day with the pall of all of these serious conversations and events hanging over me. I was grateful for the Bible app in my phone that could read passages to me as I drove. I scrolled to 2 Corinthians 4 and pressed “Play,” allowing my phone to read the chapter to me.

When I came to verses 16 through 18, I paused and felt the weight of all of these things coming down. Pulling into the parking lot at my office, my eyes stopped on these verses and I processed just what they meant in light of all that I was feeling.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Light. Momentary. Affliction.

The only word that I really like there, that really feels honest to me, is affliction. To call these things light and momentary almost seems disrespectful at best, heartless at worst.

Then I had to remember just who had written these words. The Apostle Paul knew difficulty. He knew affliction. He had been beaten. He had been shipwrecked. He had spent time in prison. He dealt with a thorn in his flesh which continued to afflict him even after praying three times to God for it to be taken away. This same Paul could call all of these things light momentary afflictions.

Perspective.

My heart is still heavy, but there’s hope. That seems to be what it comes down to for me, is there hope? Can I see past the present circumstances to what will be? Not easy. Not comfortable.

Hope doesn’t extinguish the pain of the present, it just puts it into perspective a little. Hope doesn’t remove scars or grief, but it can often help us see beyond them to the purpose for which they were experienced, or more to the point, what they accomplished in us and how we changed through them.

As I said to my friends on our call, I can’t imagine what life would be like without community. I am grateful for the communities in which I found myself. It’s in those communities that I have been formed, encouraged, and sustained. And so, it’s in those communities that I will remain as I press on.

The Hundred Story Home – A Book Review

hundred story homeWhat do you do when in the midst of living the perfect life that you had always wanted, you are challenged out of that comfort zone to pursue something more significant yet risky and scary? Kathy Izard can tell you. While living her dream life in Charlotte, North Carolina, circumstances shifted her out of where she was going to take her in a direction that she never would have imagined. Izard writes that at thirty-five, she was, “an accidental tourist in my own life.”

In The Hundred Story Home, Kathy Izard tells her story of significance and how she was able to make a difference with the issue of homelessness in Charlotte. From her early days growing up in El Paso Texas with her parents and two sisters, Izard writes of her mother’s mental illness during an era when mental illness was still the unspeakable illness. No one talked about it. No one really dealt with it. Though people in their church cared for her and her family, she writes, “There are no casseroles for crazy.”

After going to college in North Carolina, getting married, starting a family, and settling down in Charlotte, Kathy began to live her life, the life that she had felt she had stumbled upon. She stumbled upon an ad in the church bulletin asking for volunteers to help out at Charlotte’s Urban Ministry Center. That began the journey that would eventually lead her on a journey towards helping to address homelessness in Charlotte.

Kathy Izard tells her story like a rambling river, meandering between the details that swirled around her life. She chronicles her mother’s illness. She talks about the bond that was formed with her father and how his cancer diagnosis and eventual death shook her out of complacency. She talks about her daughter’s open heart surgery at nine months old. All of these details surrounded the work that she had begun to see how the issue of homelessness in Charlotte could be addressed.

After reading the book Same Kind of Different As Me, she felt led to reach out to the authors to see if they could come speak at a fundraiser for the ministry center on whose board Izard served. They agreed, the fundraiser was put together, and in an interaction with Denver Moore, one of the authors, he asked her where all the beds were when she toured him around the ministry center.

Izard’s journey continued and she tells of how she began to take Moore’s words to heart and worked towards helping to start a program that took some of the most chronically homeless off the streets.

Kathy Izard is a gifted storyteller. She invites her reader into her narrative. Her story never feels disjointed or abrupt, everything flows in such a meaningful and intentional way towards the end. She shares her heart and I could hear her emotion in every word as she struggled with sadness, despair, wonder, curiosity, doubt, and joy.

My expectation when I started this book was that Izard’s faith might have taken more of a front seat than it actually did. She mentions her lack of faith early on and it never develops beyond a simple acknowledgement of the fact that God was there. I was a little disappointed that seeing how all the pieces came together didn’t stir her faith more than it did. While she acknowledges its presence in her life, it never seemed to have moved out of the back seat that its inhabited for the majority of her life.

The Hundred Story Home was a good read. I was encouraged by the story to hear of one person’s journey towards combating homelessness. It seems that with the right ideas and right connections, anyone can make a difference. An acknowledgement and testimony that God was in the details and just what that meant to Izard might have been in order.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

12 Faithful Men – A Book Review

12 Faithful MenIf you are in full-time vocational ministry, chances are pretty good that somewhere along the way, someone has given you the speech about your calling and the difficulties of ministry. When individuals have come to me with the prospect of going into full-time vocational ministry, I have counseled them that if there is anything else that they can do and find fulfillment, they should do that. Ministry is not for the faint of heart.

In “12 Faithful Men,” Colin Hansen and Jeff Robinson have compiled the stories of twelve faithful men who have endured many difficulties in ministry. From the Apostle Paul to Charles Spurgeon, from John Calvin to John Bunyan, and eight others, the editors compile these stories chronologically and share snapshots of their lives to see all of the things that they have experienced in their lives.

The stories range from the Apostle Paul and his imprisonment and shipwrecking. They cover the subject of John Bunyan’s writing that blossomed while he too was imprisoned. They describe the losses of a child and a spouse that Andrew Fuller experienced. They chronicle the congregation that was vehemently opposed to Charles Simeon and who wanted him to be replaced with someone else.

Reading through these accounts, it brings some perspective to those of us who may get upset when a member of our congregation criticizes our sermon or when an elder looks at us cross-eyed. The pain and suffering that the authors of these stories describe are true difficulties. It would be hard for any of the subjects of these stories to be questioned if they claimed trial and affliction.

But the authors make it clear that suffering and affliction has been a pattern that has built the church. In fact, Robinson writes that, “one certain indicator that God has called a man is that he stands firm and perseveres in ministry after he has been thoroughly buffeted by a hurricane of affliction.” These difficulties that are persevered in ministry shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a detractor or even a sign that someone isn’t where they are supposed to be but instead that they are in exactly the right place.

Ministry is hard and the authors of these stories paint that as a clear picture for the reader. But it’s hard to get the full picture in the brief chapters that touch on these twelve individuals. So, this book may be seen as an appetizer or buffet of the lives of these twelve men. These stories can whet the appetite of the reader and then he or she can choose to dig deeper into the lives of these men if they so choose.

While there were familiar names in here such as Paul, John Newton, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, and Charles Spurgeon, there were also unfamiliar names, at least to me. Names such as John Chavis, Charles Simeon, Janani Luwum, and Wang Ming-Dao. These chapters were a great introduction to these men, their lives, and the difficulties that they endured.

I thought it was well worthwhile to read, especially for those in full-time ministry. Even for those who are simply church members, this book can be a sobering picture to the average person of some of the difficulties that may be endured by those embarking on the journey of full-time ministry. If you want to get a taste for twelve men who experienced difficulty, tragedy, and hardship, this book is a great wade into that. If you read it, you just might find that you want to read deeper into the lives of these men and others who have followed the call of God even through trial and trouble.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Something’s Coming

It’s been quite some time since I’ve really been able to dream. I’m not talking about while I’m asleep, but while I’m awake. I haven’t had dreams of what could be as I’ve found myself so encumbered by what is and how to manage all that’s going on around me.

Maybe you’ve been there before. Maybe you used to dream, you used to think big thoughts and grand ideas. Maybe somehow, some way, those dream, big thoughts, and grand ideas slowly dissolved away.

Well, there has to be a way to get them back again.

When I’ve found myself in that state of emptiness in the area of dreams, it seems that somehow I’ve taken my eyes off of God and placed them firmly onto myself. Kind of like Peter when he walked on water, instead of focusing on Jesus, I look at the storm raging around me and begin to question how I’m going to do it. Instead, I need to remember that it’s not me but Christ in me.

When I cast off the things that encumber me, I find myself anticipating with excitement what could be. It’s like that song from West Side Story, “Something’s Coming.”

It’s only just out of reach

Down the block, on the beach

Under a tree.

I got a feeling there’s a miracle due

Gonna come true, comin’ to me!

I’ve been saying to the people around me for a number of years that we need to dream dreams that are so big that only God can accomplish them. I’ve also told people over and over again that I’ve never preached a sermon that wasn’t written to myself first and foremost. A friend reminded me the other day that I’ve also said that criticism is autobiographical but he added that sermons are autobiographical as well, at least they are for me.

I don’t like to stay still. I like to move. I’m an activator. I’m a challenger. I’m a change agent. I’ve come to grips with those things and I am learning to embrace them. Sometimes it’s disruptive to other people and sometimes it’s disruptive to me, but status quo is rarely something that I can allow myself to grow comfortable with.

Something’s coming. I can feel it in the air. I can sense it in my very being. The best part of it is that there’s no way that I can do it on my own, it’s a dream so big that only God can accomplish it. Honestly, that’s the only way that I would want it to be.