The Imperfect Disciple – A Book Review

The Imperfect DiscipleOn the last page of “The Imperfect Disciple” Jared Wilson writes, “I wrote this book for all who are tired of being tired. I wrote this book for all who read the typical discipleship manuals and wonder who they could possibly be written for, the ones that makes us feel overly burdened and overly tasked and, because of all that, overly shamed.” And if we start with the ending, reading this page first, it really gives us a synopsis of “The Imperfect Disciple.”

Wilson’s sub-title for the book is, “Grace for people who can’t get their act together.” He reminds the reader throughout the book that discipleship is not just working harder, better, or more efficiently. We can only get to where we need to go through Jesus, not through our own efforts. Jesus is not looking for people who have it all together, Jesus is actually looking for people who can’t get their act together. It is those of us who don’t seem to be able to get our acts together that understand better that we are unable to get to where we need to get on our own.

Jared Wilson shares stories from his own experiences in ministry as he walks through what discipleship really can look like. We cannot simply manage our sin and think that’s enough to make us good disciples. In fact, if all we are doing is sin management, then we’ve missed the gospel and the essence of discipleship as it goes so much further than simply outward appearance and action. The essence of discipleship and the gospel penetrates to our hearts and souls, changing us from the inside out. That kind of change is not something that we are able to achieve on our own and the harder we try, the more frustrated we will become.

We cannot think that discipleship is all about us fitting God into the nooks and crannies of our lives. But Wilson says, “…God owns all of life, and worshiping God means we must revolve around him, not us. So God shouldn’t be confined to his own compartment in our schedule. Jesus does not abide in his assigned time slot; we abide in him.”

Wilson explores sabbath rest, worship, and other key areas of the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. He challenges those of us who think we can achieve and encourages those of us who feel like we will never measure up. While there was nothing here that was earth shattering to me, Wilson’s writing style and delivery made this book a worthwhile read. If you’re looking for encouragement after having tried to measure up to impossible standards, the message of grace that is presented here could be salve for your soul and encouragement for the way forward.

(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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Into the Fray – A Book Review

Into the FrayIn his previous book, “The First Time We Saw Him,” Matt Mikalatos retold some of the stories from the Gospels in modern language. His gift for storytelling and narrative was evident as he wove and reimagined these stories together, putting them into a language and context that makes sense in a modern setting.

In “Into the Fray,” Mikalatos reimagines the Book of Acts. He asks the question about the Gospel, a term that is taken from the Middle English word that means, “good news.” While some claim to be able to describe and tell the Gospel in a nutshell, Mikalatos says that the full gospel, “can’t be presented in fifteen minutes or in a sermon or in a series of sermons.” In fact, he says, “Every new understanding we gain about the person and character of Jesus is the good news, and he is an infinite being.” If the Gospel is really the good news about Jesus and what he has done and offered to us, then we might be doing something wrong as many who aren’t part of the church don’t really know just what it is that we are trying to offer to them. If it’s good news, we might need to present it in such a way that lets it be distinguishable as such.

“Into the Fray” is the retelling of the Acts of the Apostles, which Mikalatos believes to be a terrible name. After all, the stories told throughout Luke’s book are not so much about the acts that were accomplished by the apostles but the acts accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts tells stories about people who are ordinary rather than extraordinary. The only way that these people become extraordinary and accomplish the astonishing is through the receiving and the power of the Holy Spirit. As one of the characters retelling the stories puts it, “It’s not the people who are extraordinary. It’s what’s inside them.”

In the stories and in his own narrative throughout “Into the Fray,” Mikalatos pushes against some of the preconceived notions and accepted norms of evangelicalism. Who is in and who is out? What does a “real” Christian look like? He reminds the reader of the apostle Paul’s words that our fight and battle is not against flesh and blood. People are not the enemy. He calls us to question the things that we have called to be sacred just as Peter was given a vision of eating the very things that had been off-limits according to the old covenant.

Mikalatos reminds his readers that we are called, as followers of Christ, to make pure Jesus followers, “people who come close to Jesus and become more like him.” He says, “As we become more like Jesus, we behave more like him, thus naturally stopping sinful behavior and embracing pure, beautiful, godly behavior.” Considering that the Book of Acts is full of stories of people who have been changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit and an encounter with the living God, it’s a good reminder that we aren’t called to change people or get them to act a certain way, we’re simply called to introduce them to Jesus and teach them all that we have been taught about him.

We enter into conversations with those who are far from Jesus by finding connection points. Sometimes those connect points are cultural or musical while other times they are spiritual. Sometimes, we find common points, points of discussion and conversation around another religion that someone has chosen to follow. Those can act as starting points, springboards into other conversations. Mikalatos write, “It’s not that the conversation ends there or that we’re allowing other religions to dictate our own. It’s that we’re sorting through two belief systems and finding the places they overlap and starting the conversation there.”

Throughout the book, Mikalatos admits to the reader that he is in process himself. He admits his own tendencies towards Pharisaism and judgment. He writes, “Whether I look at my own heart or at Christian culture, I see evidence of areas where we refuse to interact with others because, at the heart of it, we see ourselves as better, more clean, more correct, more holy, more spiritual, more righteous, more dedicated, more committed, more insightful, more innovative, or more traditional.” He reminds us that God has admitted those into his kingdom that didn’t necessarily meet the standards that were expected or even called for.

Mikalatos pushes just enough to be provocative but not so much that he becomes antagonistic or belligerent. His provocation isn’t simply for provocation’s sake, but with the intent of helping the reader to reimagine some of the stories from the Bible. He has a knack for taking them out of the context in which they were written them and transplanting them into our own context, staying true to the essence of the stories while retelling them in such a way that they are easily understandable.

“Into the Fray” ends with a discussion about story, the parts of story that matter, and how we tell our story. Mikalatos writes, “Our stories matter. We all know that a witness is someone who saw something. And as John said, our story is the story of what we have seen, what we have heard, what we have looked at, and what our hands have touched.” We tell our stories to let others know just what God has done in our lives. We come to the place in our stories and say, “That’s when God showed up,” and that’s when all the change took place. Sometimes, as followers of Christ, we make our stories simply about what happened up until our meeting Jesus, but we can’t forget that’s only the beginning of the story.

Mikalatos talks about his experience with creative writing. His ability to craft stories is evident throughout “Into the Fray” and he sticks with this strength. It might not be everyone’s style, to rethink and reimagine stories from the Bible that already seem perfectly understandable just the way that they are. If that’s your thoughts, this book is probably not for you. If you want to stretch your imagination about how some of these stories may have played out in a modern context, then “Into the Fray” is a worthwhile read. You will be challenged and stretched to think outside of the comfortable places where you’ve come to reside. If you let yourself, Mikalatos and his ability to tell stories may just help you see just how much the Holy Spirit is capable of doing as you experience some heart and life change of your own through these stories.

(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.)

The Emotionally Healthy Leader – A Book Review

emotionally healthy leaderPeter Scazzero and his church, New Life Fellowship, have emerged in the past decade as models of how to navigate through the world of church, leadership, and spirituality in an emotionally healthy manner. Scazzero started with “The Emotionally Healthy Church” back in 2003 and followed up with “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” in 2006. In the midst of his sharing about his own experience, in 2010, his wife wrote “I Quit,” the story of how she had drawn the line when she could no longer put up with the emotional unhealthy ways of her husband’s approach to life and ministry.

Now Scazzero has written “The Emotionally Healthy Leader.” In this book, Scazzero shares his experience of understanding and embracing limitations (your shadow), of finding ways to lessen stress and tension, and of moving towards allowing yourself to experience better emotional health. Early on in “The Emotionally Healthy Leader, “ Peter Scazzero writes about a time in his life where he, “always seemed to have too much to do and too little time to do it,” a place that many of us have probably come to in our own lives. Scazzero shares not only out of his successes but, more importantly, out of his failures.

Scazzero shares examples of emotionally healthy and unhealthy leaders both through biblical examples as well as examples that he has encountered along the way. According to Scazzero, unhealthy leaders are those who have low self-awareness, who prioritize ministry over marriage/singleness, who do more activity for God than their relationship with God can sustain, and who lack a work/Sabbath rhythm. These four characteristics frame the rest of the book as Scazzero asks the reader to answer questions about facing their shadow, leading out of their marriage/singleness, slowing down for loving union with God, and practicing Sabbath delight.

It’s important and essential for leaders to practice emotionally healthy leadership by allowing themselves to be transformed in order that they can help in the spiritual transformation of those whom they lead. Scazzero emphasizes the need for analyzing success properly, not embracing a “bigger is better” model but pushing for deeper and more significant success. He writes, “When it comes to the church and numbers, the problem isn’t that we count, it’s that we have so fully embraced the world’s dictum that bigger is better that numbers have become the only thing we count.” Scazzero stresses the importance of who you are rather than what you do and how being with God improves your emotional health more than doing for God does.

A key point that Scazzero highlights is the need to address and face conflict rather than sweeping it under the rug. Too often, leaders (especially spiritual leaders) will adopt a “don’t rock the boat” approach as long as things are moving along. Scazzero points out the need to ask painful and difficult questions for the sake of everyone involved. If the “elephants in the room” are not addressed, the church and its leaders will need to pay a significantly higher price later on.

Scazzero takes the reader through the journey of self-discovery towards emotional health. He discusses the idea of facing your shadow. As Scazzero describes it, the shadow is, “the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behaviors.” Scazzero talks of the shadow side of some of the gifts that we have, things that most of us use to our advantage that can easily be used to the detriment of others if we are unaware of them. Scazzero says that, ““…we have a stewardship responsibility to honestly face our shadow.”

Throughout the book are various exercises designed to help the leaders move through these various areas towards emotional health. He talks about the importance of establishing a rule of life, a means by which one can stay consistent and maintain a healthy balance between life and work. One of those things that he sees as essential is the establishment of a weekly Sabbath to incorporate necessary rest into one’s schedule. The surveys and assessments include questions that can help the reader move towards healthiness in the areas of facing and addressing their shadow, leading out of their singleness/marriage, growing in their oneness with God, and practicing Sabbath rest.

The book is divided into two halves: the inner life and the outer life. After walking through the four essential questions that Scazzero lays out regarding your shadow, your singleness/marriage, your loving union with God, and your Sabbath, Scazzero moves on to how these things play out in ministry. He discusses the importance of planning and decision making, of culture and team building, of power and wise boundaries, and of endings and beginnings.

2/3 of the way through The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Scazzero writes, “We share openly about what God is teaching us – in sermons, staff meetings, private conversations, and with members of our small group.” I would say that may very well be the secret of his success: his humility. Scazzero leads from his strengths but is not afraid to confront, identify, and share his weaknesses and limitations. His humility is evident and he never comes across as a “know-it-all” but rather as one who wants to share his own struggles in order that others can avoid the same ones. He shares from his heart out of a desire to see others avoid some of the same mistakes that he has made in his life.

Since Scazzero has been writing books for the last decade, the honest and reflective insights that he shares have been incredibly helpful to me. Having grown up in the home of a pastor and now being a pastor myself, what Scazzero shares is not something you can get in a basic seminary course, although it should be. Learning and embracing what Scazzero shares is essential and life-giving for those who are willing to take the time.

I think that “The Emotionally Healthy Leader” is not just a good resource, but an essential resource for any pastor or ministry leader who wants to really see the kind of transformative growth to which God calls us in both ourselves and the people we lead. If you are serious about seeking out emotional health and aren’t afraid of embarking on a journey of renewal and restoration, then you need to get a copy of this book.

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

Faith of Our Fathers

When people ask me about my faith journey, I talk to them about my upbringing, growing up in the church, the son of a pastor. I talk about trusting Jesus at an early age, being baptized, and doing the things that I thought that I was supposed to do as I grew older, physically and spiritually.

But the story doesn’t end there. That early faith journey was not clear and simple, it was actually full of confusion as well as I tried to understand just what it meant to live out my faith and to hold on to something that seemed to have been inherited from my parents.

As I grew older, I realized how much that I had been relying on what had been handed down to me rather than allowing the seeds that had been planted to take root in me. I realized that a true and genuine faith is authentic, real, and personal, it can’t be simply duplicated by copying what someone else does but it needs to be something that shapes and forms you, changing and transforming you to be who God has called you to be.

While my prodigal journey away from the church was not long-lived or extreme, it was there. I came to the stark realization in college that my faith seemed to be a sham, simply a carbon copy of what I had received.

My journey away ended after about a year when I began to see my faith as my own rather than that of my parents.

Faith is much more than religion, it’s much more than rules and regulations. If it is to be genuine and personal, it needs to be experienced firsthand. Secondhand faith is no good, it is not genuine.

As I was reading in my daily Bible reading the other day, I came upon the end of Judges 8. If you aren’t familiar with the book of Judges, it’s one of the books in the Bible that would ensure any movie made from the Bible would receive at least a PG-13 rating, if not an R rating. It’s encouraging, frustrating, violent, and gracious, all at the same time.

At the end of Judges 8, Gideon has died. This same Gideon is the one who had led the Israelites to victory and then was ensnared by pride and the love of the people to create an idol that the people eventually worshipped.

Gideon dies and this is how the passage reads:

Judges 8:33-35

33 No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god 34 and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. 35 They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them.

As I read these verses, my heart sank.

If I’m completely honest, one of the biggest fears that I have is that my children’s journey of faith will cease or diverge from my own. I fear that I will fail in my example of what true faith is for them. I fear that they might reject the very thing that has been such a pillar and cornerstone of my life.

These verses are heartbreaking to me because the faith of the Israelites was based solely on who was leading them rather than on what was actually going on in their own hearts. They had sacrificed the real thing for secondhand faith.

I don’t ever want my children to believe simply to make me happy. I don’t want to feel that their faith is just a carbon copy of what I have handed them, a cheap substitute for the real thing. I want it to be real and authentic.

Part of my faith needs to be that God will hold my children in his hand, that he will grow the seeds of faith that have been planted in them. I can only pray that my wife and I can fan the flame of faith that has been started in them, to pray that their faith will be firsthand faith.

No one ever said that it was easy, if it was, wouldn’t everyone have faith?

I am grateful that it all doesn’t lie in my hands, but at the same time, this is why I pray the words of the father of the possessed boy in Mark 9 who said, “I believe, help my unbelief.” I am grateful for the grace of God who meets me where I am, increasing my faith daily, but walking beside me and putting up with my unbelief.

Under Construction

under constructionAbout six months ago (if not longer), a project began by my house to add a turning lane and widen the road to remedy the traffic issues that were plaguing the area due to a FedEx distribution center being constructed. The project began and it was clear that something was going on, it just wasn’t clear exactly what was happening, when it was happening, and when it would be finished.

About a half mile down the street, a new WalMart Neighborhood Market was being constructed. The road was impacted, a new signal was installed, and there were signs of the major construction. Driving past this every day, it was interesting to watch the progress. The site was cleared, the site was graded, the building was constructed, and it all happened fairly quickly. Before I knew it, the building was up and ready to open.

Meanwhile, just down the road, it would seem that the road expansion had halted or even gone backwards. There was no evidence of what had caused the holdup. I drove by the same project on many a sunny day and wondered what on earth had caused this kind of delay. I would see workers out there on site but at the end of the day, I couldn’t tell what kind of progress had been made.

Never being one to shy away from complaining, I took to social media to vent and complain. I was hoping that some of my local friends might have had more insight than I as to what was actually going on with the project. No dice. The project continued…….at a snail’s pace.

The other day, a friend of mine sent me a text as a wonderful reminder to me. She wrote, “We’re all “under construction” by God and sometimes we can’t see why it’s taking so long to get thru the construction project. It may involve detours & delays & a big mess we didn’t see coming, but in the end, the road project is done & looks all pretty & all the mess was worth it. Consider the road construction pure joy!”

I read her text over and over again and sat there with a mix of awe and shame. I was amazed at the insight (not who had given it, you’re a wise woman, Mary) and ashamed that I hadn’t taken more of a step back to really think through what I could learn from it. The shame didn’t last long, I’ve moved past the place in my life where I beat myself up over and over again.

I began to think about just how right my friend was and how true it is. In fact, the Apostle Paul even wrote encouragement to this very end to the church in Philippi when he said, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

We’re all under construction. The only plans that we have are that we need to look more like Christ. There are delays and detours, just as my friend said. Oftentimes, we can’t see the progress, maybe because it’s subtle, maybe because it’s beneath the surface, but when we don’t see progress, noticeable progress, we get frustrated and wonder what’s going on.

All the while, God is at work, striving and moving ahead to complete a work that has been started in us that will one day be complete. When we get to completion, it will all be worth it, but in the meantime, we do our best to wait…..patiently……hoping that it is worth it in the end and hoping that we begin to see the kind of progress that we’ve been hoping and waiting for!philippians 1.6

Look and Live – A Book Review

look and live papaWe all worship something, we all give glory to something. It’s just a matter of what that “something” is and whether or not it can really bear the weight of the worship and glory that we give to it. Author, speaker, and musician Matt Papa says that the triune God, “is the only thing large enough and interesting enough to bear the weight of glory, and ultimately worship. Anything else will break your heart.” He then proceeds to unpack that within his book, “Look and Live.”

Papa suggests that we are all giving glory to something but if it isn’t the one, true God, then we are committing the equivalent of Esau, selling off our birthright for a bowl of beans. We are sacrificing the real thing for a cheap imitation. In order to fully understand what it means to glorify God, to worship him, we need to actually gaze upon his glory. When we gaze upon his glory and set our eyes on who he is, then we begin to understand how to glorify him. As one is amazed at an artist by looking upon their artistry, so we can look upon the artistry of God to begin to see his glory.

There are two types of glory, Papa writes, glory within and glory given. Glory given results when one experiences the glory within. Glory within is the internal excellence that we see in things, but it is only God who can give us the full picture of glory, That is why, Papa says, that everyone who encounters the glory of God within the Bible nearly falls dead. We cannot encounter the glory of God and remain unchanged.

As G.K. Chesteron wrote, “When we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing. We worship anything.” “Look and Live” explores what we as humans so often do, glorifying things that simply point to the glory of God, things that cannot bear the weight of that glory without crumbling. We create idols in our lives that outweigh and replace God in order to find happiness, but those things all fall short of providing the promised result. They all fail us.

Even in our encounter of God’s glory, we fail to understand our approach to it. Rather than saying that we must behave in order to encounter it, we must actually behold it in order to fully experience it and be changed. We cannot enter into the spiritual process of sanctification and experience the transformation of becoming more and more like Christ unless we behold the glory of God. That is the only thing that can bring us lasting change.

Throughout the books, Papa aims straight at many of the things that plague us as Christians, our sin and idolatry. He makes his case for looking upon Jesus to fully experience the glory of God, showing uncanny insights and wisdom beyond his years. He pulls no punches in addressing the sin and idolatry issue that many of us have come to embrace in exchange for the glory of God, sin and idolatry that often emerge our of good things that end up being ends in and of themselves rather than means for looking upon the glory of God.

When we truly experience and look upon the glory of God, not only are we changed, but we also want to share that glory with everyone we meet. So, as Papa shares, “if you aren’t sharing God, then you aren’t enjoying God.”

At the outset, “Look and Live” didn’t seem like a very different book from so much else that is in the “Christian” market. As I dove into it, I felt like, while everything Papa was saying was true, it sounded so familiar that it seemed, in a way, dull and repetitive. I had to push on through the beginning to really see the insights that Papa had to offer. Could he have arrived there sooner in the book, probably, but that’s not always the writer’s fault. It could be blamed on editing.

Although it took me a little effort to push through what I felt like was a slow beginning to “Look and Live,” once I moved past it, the effort was worth it. “Look and Live” is a worthwhile reminder of the good things that can easily entangle us from experiencing the greatness and glory of God. While there were many things that I’ve read in various other places, Papa’s ability to cut to the heart of the issue and simplify it, making it a matter of our need for looking upon Jesus, helps both those who are familiar with the ideas and concepts about which he is writing as well as those who are encountering them for the first time.

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

The Making of An Ordinary Saint – A Book Review

nathan fosterIt’s got to be pretty tough to be Richard Foster’s son. The man who wrote “Celebration of Discipline,” the modern textbook on spiritual disciplines, casts a very large shadow that would be hard to escape. Nathan Foster has spent his fair share of time trying to live out of that shadow, pursuing a life of rebellion and angst, but now he is back to let the rest of us know that there is hope beyond the shadows, hope beyond the larger than life legacies that have been left behind by those who have gone before us.

“The Making of An Ordinary Saint” is a memoir of sorts. It feels as if Foster simply published his journal as he intentionally journeyed through the spiritual disciplines outlines in his father’s book. In fact, each experience of a discipline is prefaced with a brief word and synopsis from Richard Foster, Nathan’s dad, outlining and highlighting the significance of the discipline. For those who are familiar with the disciplines, it’s a helpful recap to reacquaint yourself with them. For those unfamiliar with the disciplines, these serve as helpful introductions to “wet the whistle” of those who may embark on their own spiritual journey through the disciplines.

Nathan Foster is wide open, unafraid and unhindered by the truth of who he is and who he is becoming. He’s not afraid to reveal his flaws and mistakes in an effort to help the rest of us feel better about our own pursuits. With humor and stirring narrative, Foster moves through the disciplines: submission, fasting, study, solitude, meditation, confession, simplicity, service, prayer, guidance, worship, and celebration. He brings the reader into his own journey, allowing us to see, think, and feel all that he sees, thinks, and feels.

“The Making of An Ordinary Saint” hits the mark closer to home for me, the son of a pastor who has had to find a way outside of the shadow of my own father’s legacy. To experience and relive the journey of another fellow sojourner is a comfort, like a warm blanket on a cold and rainy day. Foster invites us all to join him in the journey and to celebrate the fact that the practice of the disciplines is not as far away and unattainable as we might think.

“The disciplines reveal our shortcomings. I’m beginning to see that practicing the disciplines for any reason other than as a response to love is potentially dangerous.”Choosing to practice the disciplines for selfish reasons or personal gain will be a frustrating experience, fraught with failures and shortcomings. But if we enter into it with humility and reluctance, we may find, as Foster did, that the disciplines are much closer than we think, that they blend into one another, and that practicing them may become as easy to us as breathing.

“The Making of An Ordinary Saint” wasn’t written for the scholars among us, those who are seeking to find a play by play description of how to apply these disciplines to our lives. In fact, Nathan Foster still seems to be on a journey back to the church, the Bride of Christ, after a long hiatus. It seems that there is still hurt and bitterness there, still healing that is in the process. That being said, some may be disappointed that Foster doesn’t dig as deep into theology as they might hope, but it serves as a reminder that this book was most likely written for those who are in the process of “coming back,” the prodigals whose journey will end with them in the arms of the Loving Father after wallowing in the filth with the pigs and squandering their inheritance on frivolities and self pursuits. It is for those that this book was most likely written, those who simply need to know the love of the Father.

I would highly recommend “The Making of An Ordinary Saint” for anyone who is interested in knowing more about the spiritual disciplines. Whether you are a newcomer to these disciplines or an old novice, this book is a refreshing tale of one man’s journey through the disciplines, his survival to tell the story, and his willingness to share with the rest of us who find ourselves becoming just ordinary saints.

(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.)

Distorted Religion

extremismThe news has been full of stories about ISIS and the rampage of terror that they are wreaking upon the Middle East. The videos that have been portrayed have been brutal. They have beheaded journalists and others. They have instilled fear in people and had the world scratching their head in wonder, asking how this can happen and who will stop them.

Some have taken to criticizing Islam because of this extreme group. I read the posts and found myself feeling mostly aligned with some of the thoughts and criticism…..until I looked in the mirror. A friend posted this picture on his Facebook page and I was horrified at the thought that, as a Christian, I should be associated with the likes of the Ku Klux Klan, Fred Phelps and his minions, or psychotic megalomaniacs like Jim Jones and David Kuresh. Surely people who know me would know that the Christianity that I espouse does not bear any similarities to these extreme distortions, right?

Over and over again in the past few weeks, I have mulled over in my mind what to do with ISIS and how to address it in my own mind. I have wondered about the process which has become known in the theological world as eisegesis, the isolating of passages of the Bible out of their contexts to be used for less than noble purposes. For hundreds of years, people have taken the Bible and distorted it, twisting the words to fit whatever their preferences would have them. If the Bible is subject to such distortion, why should the Koran be any different or exempt?

Christianity is an embracing of the teachings of Jesus as truth, the embracing of Jesus as the only son of God, fully human and fully God, the embracing of his life and teachings, the embracing him as the only way to the Father, the becoming a disciple and follower of the incarnate God, the embracing of the Bible as the written Word of God. When we fail to fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith, we will find ourselves guilty of eisegesis over and over again. We might like to point our fingers at those who are doing “really bad” things with their distortions of their religious books, but it doesn’t make our distortion any less of a distortion.

I have always hated to be associated with mainline Christianity by friends whose only understanding of Christianity comes from MSNBC, the Washington Post, or worse yet, from an experience that they had with a supposed Christian who hurt them or offended them in some way. While I consider myself evangelical, that word seems to set something off within people that triggers an alarm, signaling for them to stay away……far away. Labels have a way of doing that, polarizing people because we tend to think in extremes, identifying the labeled with the extremes that fall into that particular label.

Unfortunately, imperfect people (like me) have spoken for Jesus and have caused people to think that they (and me), in their (and my) imperfect state are the reason to follow or reject Jesus. It’s not license to live however we want, but it is a request for grace from those who are still not convinced that Jesus is who he says he is or that God is real.

I am sorry for the distorted picture of Jesus that I have sometimes given to others. I am sorry that my representation of him has been less than stellar at times and downright atrocious at other times. I am sorry that I may have caused someone who was searching for answers to have looked the other way because the Jesus that they encountered in me was so far from the real thing.

I am thankful that God’s mercies are new every morning. I am thankful that there is grace extended to those like me who fall short time and again. I am thankful that Jesus came for people like me, people who fall short and are unable to bring salvation to themselves.

I hope and pray that I might learn a little more every day just who Jesus is and how I can best represent him. I pray the prayer of John the Baptist that I might decrease in order that Jesus might increase in me. I pray that the God of second chances might grant me second and third and beyond that number of chances to better represent him to the world and the people around me.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found but now I see. Soli Deo Gloria!

Thinking Too Highly of Yourself

Have you ever been around someone who thinks too highly of themselves? You know the type, they walk around as if they are God’s gift to the world, as if their absence from this world would create a huge gap for the rest of us. And, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we actually might be those people, walking around as if the world would stop spinning if we stopped living.

One of the beautiful things about the Bible, to me, is that the truth it conveys makes sense regardless of whether or not you believe everything that’s written within it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe what it says, but if you’re reading this and you aren’t there yet, I still think that there’s wisdom that you can hear and receive from it, even if you aren’t at the point of full belief yet.

The Apostle Paul, when he was writing to the church in Rome, wrote in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Paul was promoting a healthy sense of humility for all, a self-image that doesn’t elevate one’s self so much as seeing one’s self in light of a bigger picture.

For followers of Christ, that bigger picture is the body of Christ, the incarnation of Christ to the world in the form of the Church. Each of us brings what we have to the table and puts it together with what God has given to others. Combine that with the power that God gives us through the Holy Spirit and we’ve got a winning combination……but it’s just that, a combination. A combination is what you get when 2 or more pieces are combined. It’s kind of like that cartoon in the 1980s “Voltron” where the individual robots came together to form one giant robot. The individual robots were fine and good by themselves, but together, they kicked serious butt!

I’ve been in a place of major humbling lately. It seems that God is trying to teach me this lesson of not thinking of myself too highly than I ought. It’s a difficult place to come to where you can honestly see that your presence and gifts are not essential for achieving and completing the work of God. It’s very arrogant to think that the God of the universe really NEEDS you to accomplish his work.

But once you come to that place where you realize that you are not essential but chosen, it’s a freeing thought. No, God doesn’t NEED me to accomplish his work, but he certainly wants me. He’s gifted me with what I have and then calls me to be part of the bigger plan and picture. When I accept that call, it’s a privilege, not a right, and I need to see it that way. When I do, it can make all the difference in the world for my own self-perception.

Part of the idea of “dying to myself” daily is just this: to realize that I shouldn’t think too highly of myself. It’s a process, sometimes slow and wearisome. I fight, I kick, I resist, but when I finally begin to understand it, when I finally begin to catch on, it’s not self-deprecating, dehumanizing, or demeaning, it’s actually energizing and invigorating.

Here’s to hoping that I continue to learn this lesson.

Multiply

multiplyThere has been a resurgence within the Christian subculture and the church to focus on discipleship. While it’s probably always been there as a goal, it has never been emphasized and enforced as much as it has now, at least not in my lifetime. Jesus’ call to the disciples, and subsequently to us, was to make disciples. It was a command and a commission not a gentle nudge or option. It doesn’t matter whether or not we feel we have the gift of evangelism or teaching, discipleship is at the core of who we are as followers of Christ, we teach others what Christ commanded and to obey all that he commanded.

But how do you start? It seems like such a daunting task. During my time in the church, I’ve seen people start in various places. Recently, the Gospel of John has been a focus to get started. Some people start at the beginning of the Bible and think that going from the beginning to the ending will be sufficient but they usually get burned out or frustrated by the time they hit Leviticus, the third book of the Bible……and there’s still 63 books to go.

So, the starting point? I’ve been looking for a good resource for a while. What can you give people to help them begin the journey of discipleship? Well, part of the problem is that we try to hand out resources without attaching a relationship to them. We can’t simply hand people a book and say, “Here, read this and get back to me when you’re done.” My parents took the same approach with sex, but that’s the story for another time. Discipleship for the first twelve that Jesus called happened through a relationship, not through reading a book, so if you simply want a book to hand to someone with no strings attached, you probably should keep looking.

On the other hand, if you are willing to walk along on the journey with someone, Francis Chan has a good resource for you. It’s called “Multiply.”

Chan does a good job of breaking up the topics that he chooses to cover. He breaks the material into 5 sections: Living as a Disciple Maker, Living as the Church, How to Study the Bible, Understanding the Old Testament, and Understanding the New Testament. Each section is further broken up into chapters and at the end of each chapter, Chan and his friend, David Platt, have prepared brief videos that accompany the material.

This book isn’t short nor is it completely exhaustive. There is plenty of other material to help in getting people started in their journey as disciples of Christ, but it’s a really good start. The true test of the material is when it’s practically used to walk others through it, something I haven’t yet done. I look forward to being able to do that.

If you are just starting out in your journey with Christ or have been looking for a resource to use with people who are just starting out, I would highly recommend this. Like I said, it’s not perfect, but it’s a great place to start.