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.)

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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.

 

Inspired – A Book Review

inspiredRachel Held Evans, in my opinion, is a good writer. She is engaging and has a way to express ideas in compelling fashion. She can tell a story, crafting the details in a forward fashion as she draws her reader in. All that being said, I find myself, often, in mostly disagreement with her opinions and ideas.

“Inspired” is a book about the Bible. Evans has grown tired of Christians who have held to the old adage, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me.” This book is an exploration of the different genres contained in the Bible, how they might be considered in light of their genre. Evans bucks up against the various descriptors that people have put on the Bible, particularly those in the evangelical camp when they have called the Bible “inerrant” and “infallible.”

Evans writes, “What business do I have describing as “inerrant” and “infallible” a text that presumes a flat and stationary earth, takes slavery for granted, and presupposes patriarchal norms like polygamy?” To me, there is so much to say in this statement alone, far more than this review has word space for. It’s an ironic statement to me, coming from Evans considering her constant pushback against the variable interpretation of the various genres.

There were times when I felt myself nodding along with her. She writes, “When you stop trying to force the Bible to be something it’s not – static, perspicacious, certain, absolute – then you’re free to revel in what it is: living, breathing, confounding, surprising, and yes, perhaps even magic.” Having read the Bible through on multiple occasions, I can embrace this statement, and there is nothing more frustrating, to me, than to find people trying to use the Bible as a science textbook when it was never written as such.

Evans explores the various genres of the Bible within “Inspired.” Before each chapter, she writes a shorter prelude to the genre, in narrative form. This, to me, is where Evans shines. She is creative, witty, and engaging when she writes stories, As I have seen with other writers who have gone beyond their gifts of prose and story to fancy themselves theologians, when they stick with their strengths, they flourish. But I get it, Evans has an axe to grind and her writing is the greatest gift and tool she feels she has to grind that axe.

She is honest as she deals with the Bible, chronicling her own struggles and upbringing. She describes the Bible as, “smudged with human fingerprints” and goes on to describe the Psalms, among my personal favorites, as the “blotchiest pages of all.”

I appreciate Evans writing of her journey with the Bible. I can empathize with the struggles that I have had with this ancient book that believers call “the Word of God.” My struggle with the approach that Evans takes is that it just doesn’t seem to allow for any consistency. It feels to me as if the Bible can be read like a Choose Your Own Theology book, coming to a particular section in which the reader can determine which course of action or theology to embrace.

As seen in the quote above, Evans uses the word “magic” to describe how the Bible may be seen. My chosen word would probably be “mystery,” and I’m pretty sure Evans even uses that word in her book. As humans, we always seek concrete answers, answers that we can taste and touch and feel. But life rarely affords us the luxury of such answers and the Bible, in my opinion, is similar.

Evans and I can both agree that the Bible isn’t the place to go to find out whether or not to date the love of your life, whether to switch jobs, whether to move, or the place to go to answer countless other questions that we humans can so often become entangled within. Instead, I see the Bible as the written Word of God, revealing himself to us, and the story of the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, who mysteriously provided a way back to God and a means to redeem and restore us.

Evans holds off her most controversial chapter, and the chapter about which she is most likely most passionate, until the end. In the chapter entitled “Church Stories,” Evans fires off about her stance on same-sex relationships and how she interprets Paul’s letters. She fully admits that Paul is the biblical writer who confounds her the most.

Context is key in reading the Bible, but part of that context is to see how God has revealed himself to us through this written word that we call the Bible. When we take into account the context in which a particular section of the Bible was written, we also have to take into account how God has revealed himself, his will, and his intention in the entirety of the Bible. When we fail to do that, we can easily find ourselves in a Choose Your Own Theology book.

“Inspired” is the third book that I have read by Rachel Held Evans. It may be the one that I have found myself with more takeaways that either of the other two, but that doesn’t mean that the conclusions to which we both arrive are the same. As a book exploring the genres of the Bible, “Inspired” was worthwhile. If exploration of the Bible and its genres is your desire, I would recommend more scholarly resources to explore the genres deeper. If an opinion piece that chronicles personal struggles and viewpoints is your goal, this may be just the book for you.

(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.)

The Power of Vision – A Book Review

power of visionIf you have spent any time in an organization and have paid attention during that time, you can probably identify what happens when that organization is lacking vision. While it may not be evident at first that vision, or a lack thereof, is the specific problem, eventually, you will see the signs and know that something is wrong. The problem could very well be a vision problem.

George Barna has had a wealth of experience researching churches. His company, the Barna Group, has published significant amounts of data that show the trends in the culture today. He has shared those insights in the books that he has written. His book “The Power of Vision” is an exploration in the art, the process, the myths, and the benefits of vision.

Barna writes, “Although they are good people and have been called to ministry, most senior pastors do not have an understanding of God’s vision for the ministries they are trying to lead – and, consequently, most churches have little impact in their communities or in the lives of their congregants.” To the best of my knowledge, there is no required seminary class that teaches vision. Although we can clearly see evidence of God giving his vision to his people throughout the pages of the Bible, Barna makes it clear in his book that the process of gaining and discerning vision takes time. It cannot be entered into lightly or hastily.

Many churches will mistake mission and vision. Barna’s definition of vision is, “foresight with insight based on hindsight.” Vision is forward thinking, it concentrates on the future.

Barna does not belabor his description and insights about vision, the main portion of the book is only a little over one hundred and forty pages. But within those pages, Barna packs an incredible amount of information, not meant to confuse or confound but rather to bring clarity and insight to those who are truly seeking God’s vision for their church.

Too many churches get so caught up in returning to their glory days or maintaining the things that once made them great. Barna says, “We deplete the past to enjoy the present at the expense of the future.” While there is a place for looking backwards at where we have been in the process of vision, it needs to be coupled with looking ahead and moving there as well.

Vision will engage people if it’s the right vision and if it is communicated properly, clearly, and effectively. Barna says that communicating vision needs to be simple and if we are unable to communicate our vision, then it really doesn’t matter that we even have a vision. Without vision, people will become frustrated and will eventually leave. Vision will allow a church to filter opportunities and say no to those that will dissipate your resources.

“The Power of Vision” was a breath of fresh air. In a world where there is little to no loyalty among people, in which consumer preferences take precedence over relationships, Barna offers vision as a means by which the church can focus people towards something that matters. While a mission statement is a broad description of who you wish to reach and what you hope to accomplish, vision puts feet to the mission. Mission is philosophic while vision is strategic.

I cannot recommend this book more highly. Anyone who is in ministry or even who is part of a church and is seeking to allow God to use them needs to read this book. Barna speaks directly and honestly here. Considering his experience and the amount of churches his organization has worked with and observed, I would be hard pressed to believe that there is anything less than value in his insights.

(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.)