Hope in the Dark

The Golden ThreadIn his note at the beginning of his wife’s book, Mark Zschech mentions the Japanese art of Kintsugi, a repair method that takes broken pieces of pottery and puts them back together with threads of real gold. This repair method and art form not only restores a piece of pottery that might have otherwise been rendered useless, but it also brings more value to the piece with these threads of gold. Just like this golden thread in a piece of pottery, so is God’s redemptive work in our lives through the various things that break us down and seek to destroy us.

Once upon a time, I was a worship leader in Asheville, North Carolina. Through various connections, I had the privilege of being part of a musical team that supported many of the conferences that came through the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Among the conferences that came through which I was privileged to be a part was a Hillsong worship conference back in the days when Darlene Zschech was still the main worship pastor there.

Spending a week with her and her team was a memorable experience. Many of the songs that I and my church had been singing for years had been written by Darlene and this team. To spend time with them and see their heart for Jesus and for worship gave me the opportunity to see that these songs were not just simply ways to earn a buck, but they were from the heart and lives of people who were earnestly seeking Jesus.

I say all this because I think that slight glimpse into Zschech’s world has shaped my perspective on this book. In that brief time spent with Zschech and her team, I could see how genuine and authentic she was, there was nothing contrived in her at all. She came across as so real and it made such an impact in me and my wife who also attended the conference.

So, as I read “The Golden Thread,” I could hear her speaking the words on the page to me. I could feel the emotion that she felt and I was inspired by the faith that I had seen up close and personal.

“The Golden Thread” is more than just Zschech’s story of being diagnosed with cancer and going through treatments to become cancer free. It is a story of faith and inspiration and while she shares personally in the book, she continually points back to Jesus throughout. What does it mean to want Jesus more than anything? How do you walk through the valley of the shadow of death and maintain your faith? What happens when God’s will and yours don’t seem to match and you are left with disappointment?

Above all, “The Golden Thread” is Zschech’s emphasis on worship through all the seasons of life, no matter how difficult. As she writes, the goal of worship, “should always be to see Jesus and to experience His presence.” While we often might try to make it about us, Zschech reminds us that we shouldn’t be the focus. Worship isn’t about what we do with our lips, she says, but what we do with our lives.

Zschech writes that her cancer treatment, “actually gave me a pass into some people’s worlds where I had previously had no authority.” The shared experience of facing the disease allowed her in relationships, but also in this book, to be invited into the lives of others who were struggling through the “Why” of a diagnosis or other crisis that had somehow arrived completely uninvited into what had been a fairly pleasant life journey.

As I read “The Golden Thread,” I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if one of Job’s friends in the Bible had actually been through difficulties themselves. Would they have come across more compassionately? Would they have sounded more like Zschech sounded in this book?

The message that runs through this book much like the golden thread for which it is named is about hope and the fact that while the world and everything (and everyone?) in it may seemingly abandon you, you are never alone or pushed away by God and you will never be abandoned. Hope in Jesus is the only thing that is sustainable throughout the difficulties of life that we face.

There are insights throughout this book that apply to so much more than simply cancer diagnoses and difficulties in life. Zschech speaks of forgiveness and the need to embrace it in order to be healthy and move on. She speaks of the holy discontent that boils up within us that we need to follow, always remembering that those around us are people to be loved, not problems to be fixed.

Having finished a book by another worship leader not long before diving into this one, I was skeptical of just how I would respond to it. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged when I found myself wanting to keep reading rather than putting it down.

If you are seeking encouragement during dark times and difficulties, Zschech’s words may encourage and uplift you. While she shares out of her own experience, her insights and the application of them can be beneficial to far more experiences as well. “The Golden Thread” is a book filled with hope that points the reader to the only hope that is real and long-lasting, the hope of Jesus Christ.

(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.)

Holy Roar – A Book

In the introduction to “Holy Roar,” Chris Tomlin explains why he recommended that his friend Darren Whitehead write the book. After hearing him give a message called “The Seven Words of Praise,” Tomlin approached Whitehead to let him know that the content of the message needed to be shared beyond those who had heard the message at the local church, it needed to become a book.

The premise of the book is fairly simple: there are seven words in Hebrew that are translated “praise” in English. Whitehead gives each word a chapter and speaks of the specific linguistic nuances of these words, explaining the deeper definition, and sharing his insights and particular experience around those specifics. Whitehead’s section in each chapter is followed by Chris Tomlin sharing about a song that he has written or recorded and connecting it to the specific Hebrew word and meaning.

Each chapter also contains a section for reflection and discussion for those who may want to go through the book with their music teams or small groups. There is a quote from a historical Christian figure, a set of verses relating to the chapter, and questions for reflection and discussion.

There was nothing with which I disagreed theologically in this book. It wasn’t boring. I read it in a day, so it was a quick read. As I read through the book, I asked myself whether it seemed necessary to me. What was unique about this book that I couldn’t find anywhere else? If I didn’t read this book, would I feel as if I had missed out on something?

My conclusion was that while the book was fine, it wasn’t great. There were some helpful insights but none that I felt like I couldn’t have come to had I done my own research into these seven words using a Hebrew lexicon and investing a little bit of time. To be honest, I think it could have been marketed as a devotional book or even a Bible plan on the YouVersion Bible app rather than set aside an entire book for this content.

If you are interested in the subject matter and would rather not do the research on your own, by all means, pick up a copy of this book. But if you want to invest some time and study into learning more about these seven Hebrew words, what they mean, and how you can deepen your own personal worship, you may be better off investing in a good Hebrew lexicon and going from there.

(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.)

Know Your Limits

I was sitting in a local coffee shop the other day and a couple came in looking for breakfast options. The guy behind the counter told them that their breakfast options were limited and then proceeded to tell them about a place down the street that had a more full breakfast menu. The couple thanked him and headed out the door to the little diner down the street.

As I sat there, enthralled with what had just played out before me, I couldn’t help but think about the wisdom in knowing your limitations, in knowing what you can offer and what you can’t. This played out before me in a small little cafe, but I wondered why it doesn’t play out more in churches.

In this church planting journey that I have been on, I’ve thought a lot about churches and what they can and can’t do. I’ve thought a lot about trying to be all things to all people. I’ve wondered what keeps pastors from being secure enough in who they are and who their church is to tell people who are looking for something that they won’t find there that it might not be the place for them.

It’s far more tempting when new people come into your church to do your best to woo them and persuade them that this is the place for them, even if they are looking for something that you can’t give them. It’s far more difficult to be honest and tell them that you know a place that might be a better fit for them. I know that there are pastors out there who actually do that, recommend that people find what they’re looking for down the street, across town, or somewhere else.

In the long run, knowing limitations, both personally and as a church, will help us be more effective. I’ve learned that over the past few years, improving in the area of delegation, not to get out of working but to free myself up to do the things that I do best. Why is it that pastors and churches struggle to do what this coffee shop attendant did? Why do we struggle to know our limitations, admit our limitations, and live into the things at which we excel?

As I embark on this journey, what are the top reasons why I need to follow the example of this coffee shop attendant?

1) It helps to solidify and cast vision

I have a friend and mentor who planted a church years ago. His church has grown to be one of the largest in the area. While it might all seem like it came easily, he can share war stories and show the scars that he’s earned to get to the place where he is at. The one consistent story he has told is of the “vision wranglers” who came to the church with high expectations of what they were looking for and what they thought needed to be offered. Listening to them rather than pursuing the God given vision that you have been given will lead to a distorted vision and a confusing pursuit of that.

If a decision making process is formed to analyze opportunities and offerings within a church to ensure that they are aligned with the vision, it will go a long way in not only preventing burnout but also enforcing, solidifying, and casting that vision. When people ask if you offer something and you answer, “That doesn’t really align with the vision that God has given us,” people might not like it, but they will know what that vision is and how it drives everything that you do as a church.

2) It allows you to focus on your strengths

I could write an entire post on strengths and my own journey in them, but for the sake of this post, I’ll keep it brief. Focusing on strengths is far more fulfilling than focusing on weaknesses. That’s not to say that God doesn’t call us to grow in areas of weakness and rely on him, but I firmly believe that we still need to lean into him even when we are operating in our strengths. Just because something is your strength doesn’t mean you do it perfectly.

Focusing on the things that we are good at helps us be more effective and efficient as individuals. It makes sense that when we take it to a more corporate and communal level to the church that the same should be true. If we know the strengths of our faith community, we should live into them rather than trying to be like the other faith community down the street or across town.

When we try to do the things that we aren’t good at, not only do we become less efficient and effective, we also suffer from an identity crisis. We fail to see who God has created us to be and long to be other than who he has made us. In our pursuit of another identity, we basically tell God that we’re not satisfied with who he made us and we’d much rather be something else.

3) It helps to appreciate the vastness and diversity of the body of Christ

If the body of Christ is as diverse as Paul seems to describe it as in his letters, then maybe we aren’t all meant to do everything. There’s something to be said about a hand doing things that hands were meant to do. Same can be said of feet doing things that feet were meant to do. But an arm was never meant to smell, a leg was never meant to taste, a foot was never mean to see. Likewise, the nose, tongue, and eyes weren’t meant to do the things that arms, legs, and feet do.

There is nothing wrong with acknowledging our limitations. In fact, I think that when we acknowledge those limitations, we begin to see just how vast and diverse the body of Christ is and appreciate the gifts of others. While we may still long to be something other than we are, if we humble ourselves, I think God can bring us to the place where we gain more appreciation for the gifts of others, especially when we know how hard it is to try to live into those things.

At the same time, hopefully others come to that same place and begin to appreciate us and the gifts that God has given to us.

This is all fine and good in theory, in fact, someone told me last week that I had a lot of theories. That’s part of the beauty of this journey I find myself on, theories will be tried and tested. They will be proved or disproved. The nice thing is that this is one theory that I’ve seen played out for me by others who have gone before, so theory or not, successful or not in my case, it’s been proven before.

Ultimately, my heart is about being part of God’s kingdom work in this world. That’s not always easy, it’s not without challenges, but I think that it can go a long way towards removing some of those challenges when we begin to live in to who God has made us, both as individuals and communities, and let others live into who they are. If we find ourselves living into that, I think we will begin to see what many of us have prayed for over and over again, God’s kingdom coming and his will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Faith For This Moment – A Book Review

faith for this momentThe subtitle for Rick McKinley’s book “Faith For This Moment” is, “Navigating a polarized world as the people of God.” That sums up this book in less than ten words and McKinley spends the entire book not only explaining this but also giving five practical ways for Christians to live as the people of God in this polarized world.

Living and pastoring in a place like Portland, Oregon gives McKinley a great perspective of our culture. Regardless of what the statistics show about evangelical Christians in the 2016 election, I think that there are far more who can relate to McKinley when he writes, “Where does someone go who doesn’t fit into the given political and social boxes? What do you do if you are serious about your faith in Jesus but feel more and more that the speech and actions being used by certain Christians don’t accurately reflect what you believe?”

McKinley starts the book off describing his own experience of hearing about the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. He asks himself and his readers just how the people who follow Jesus respond in moments like this. Then he lays out a different way than what most of us have seen, a way of conviction and love.

A lot of McKinley’s focus in this book is on the people of God as exiles. It’s not a new concept, but a concept that many followers of Christ seem to have forgotten. The Church either seems to assimilate to the culture or avoid it like the plague. Sadly, it doesn’t seem that there are many who are trying to engage the culture. It’s awkward, hard, and is ripe with conflict, so why take that hard way when the easy way of assimilation or avoidance could be so much easier?

Being exiles is hard, but we in the 21st century are not the first Christ followers to have been exiled. The people of God have always been a people who have been exiled. Egypt. The wilderness. Babylon. As McKinley writes, “exile is an important way for Christians to understand what it means to be the people of God now.”

Readers are taken through a brief history lesson where McKinley outlines how Christendom was formed when Constantine was converted and Christianity became the national religion. Rather than faith being shaped by Jesus, faith was shaped by an empire, and we have seen our misplaced trust in manmade regimes lead to dismay, disappointment, and just plain disobedience.

So, how do we maintain our faithfulness to God while living in exile? McKinley urges his readers to develop the disciplines of repentance and discernment. He points to Daniel in the Bible as an example of an exile who flourished while not assimilating or completely avoiding the culture. Then McKinley walks his readers through five spiritual practices to help as we journey through exile: centering practice, hospitality, generosity, sabbath, and vocation. Throughout the five chapters outlining these spiritual practices, McKinley gives great, practical resources to live in exile without straying too far to the right or left.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to appreciate this book when I first started it. While I was familiar with Rick McKinley, I was not sure how aligned I would be with his approach. I’ve learned that I rarely find myself in 100% alignment with the views of the authors I read, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But as I read “Faith For This Moment,” I found myself echoing “Amen” over and over again. I felt a camaraderie with McKinley I breathed a deep sigh of relief in knowing that there are other fellow sojourners out there who have grown tired of the current trend within the church, who have strong convictions that have been informed by the Bible, and yet who want to live in “Babylon” without setting up some kind of Christian ghetto and praying for Jesus’ speedy return.

If you have found yourself struggling with walking the line between assimilation and avoidance in the current culture, this is a book that you might want to read. McKinley writes in a humble and loving manner, never coming across as a know it all and never becoming too preachy either. I could see myself reading this book again in six months to a year just to remind myself what living in “Babylon” looks like and just how to continue to do so without falling to one side or the other.

(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.)

Let’s Talk

It being Election Day in this continually polarizing political season, I find myself struggling once again to understand just for whom I was to cast my ballot. In my effort to better understand just who I might align with regarding important issues, my wife sent me one of those online quizzes that is supposed to “help” you figure out which candidate best fits.

So, I filled it out, only to find that I was mostly split down the middle between the two primary candidates. In my attempt to express this frustration of wondering what to do for so many of us who find ourselves in a similar situation, I went to social media. First mistake.

But my mistake led to a better understanding of just why we find ourselves where we are as a country. People will continue to point blame at certain things, but I think I’ve discovered three major things based on this experience.

1. We don’t read well.

I can’t even begin to express how many times that I have put something out on social media and it’s gone south, not because I was insensitive or unthinking, but because people failed to read. We are saturated with information. It comes at us a thousand miles a minute and we don’t know how best to try to process it all. In our effort to do so, we simply scan things and do cursory readings rather than taking the time to really read things.

I am 100% guilty of this. I do it with news. I do it with emails. I do it with mail. I do it with pretty much everything, and I can tell you that I have been burned by it before. I am learning to get better, but in order to get better, I need to understand my own limitations. What am I capable of processing well.

It’s a lesson that most of us probably learned at one time or another when we were in grade school, middle school, or high school. Make sure to read the complete question on your test so as not to misunderstand. Somehow, what we learned back then did not stick.

2. We talk past each other.

Maybe you have found yourself in a situation with a person where no matter how hard you try to reason with them, they continue to say the same things over and over again. While I haven’t witnessed this in a physical conversation, I have been witness to plenty of it online. People have their issues to defend and instead of entering into dialogue and trying to hear and understand the other’s perspective, they simply wait for the other person to take a breath so that they can get in their shots.

We don’t read well and we don’t listen well. If we enter into a conversation and we feel that while the other person is speaking we are simply thinking of the next thing to say, we probably aren’t dialoguing well. While it’s cheesy and cliche, there is something to be said about the old adage that we have been given two ears and one mouth so we should therefore listen twice as much as we talk.

3. The church should show the way.

Over the past few years, I have been a part of conversations with others who follow Christ as to whether or not the word “evangelical” should be excised from our vocabulary. It has been abused and misused and I think the original meaning has been lost on those who have idolized positions, issues, candidates, and a political system that is flawed.

God made it clear to the Israelites early on in their history that a king would not be the answer they were looking for. He told them just what a king would do and how a king would lead them. They were supposed to be a nation that was led by God. Instead, they chose to be like all the other nations around them and have a king. The rest is history, and we can see the result as we read through the Old Testament and see king after king disappoint, fail, and abuse their own people.

While Jesus was political, he was not a politician. He also understood that politics is a system in which we need to operate, not a system of salvation. Too many within the church have looked at the current system of government as a means of salvation from all the “bad people” in the world.

The church should not be led by anxiety and worry. Instead, we should show that our hope is in Christ. We should be leading the way to show that we do not believe that a political party will somehow save us but that we have only one savior, one who did not fit well into the systems of man either.

I don’t know what the outcome of today’s election will be. I can’t say that I have a specific outcome that I am hoping for either. But I do know that it is my responsibility as a follower of Christ, to be focused on a kingdom that is not of this world. That does not mean that I don’t care about what happens here, because I do. It simply means that when things look bleak, when they don’t go the way that I want them to, when I feel hopeless, I need to refocus my hope on the only one who can hold that hope. It is not a political party, system, or candidate, it is the one king who will not falter or fail.