The Mind of God – A Book Review

mind of godHow do Christ followers make an impact on the world? Do we isolate ourselves by creating a false sense of security in a sequestered bubble in hopes that our influence might be felt from far away through the various means that we have? How do we exercise the wisdom that God has given us to make a difference in the world and culture around us?

Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California, looks at Solomon and his wisdom in his latest book, “The Mind of God.” Johnson introduces the reader to the seven mountains or spheres of influence: family, religion, economy, education, government, arts and media, and science and technology. He shares about how we can influence the world around us, our culture, by having an impact in these areas.

The church is not a building, we’ve probably heard it said at least once in our lifetime. Do those words resound in who we are and do they actually mean something when it comes to our actions as the church of Jesus Christ? Do we influence people so that they will come be part of our church or so that they can become part of the kingdom of God? Johnson shares his own church’s experience with meeting people where they are and influencing them for Jesus Christ. He writes, “Our job as believers is to excel as servants in realms of wisdom, that they world around us might benefit and see the kindness of the Lord drawing them to repentance and relationship with him.”

We are called to serve without agenda, as Johnson writes, the more we serve the city for the sake of the city, “the more the city opens up to the message we carry.” When we have ulterior motives or some hidden agenda, it won’t remain as hidden as we might like. Instead, we need to love people as Jesus loves them in order that our message might be compelling, not seen as a slogan or sale pitch, but rather as a true motivation that moves us and propels us with the love of Christ.

It is evident throughout this book that Johnson comes from a more Charismatic background. That’s not a pejorative statement, simply an observation. Anyone familiar with Bethel Church most likely knows the controversy swirling around it because of what some consider to be questionable theology. Reading this book, there was nothing that indicated to me that the divergence in theology was in any essential areas that would make me stand up and cry, “Heresy!” A few head scratching moments that made me wonder, but not enough for me to think that all of the criticism that has been heaped at Bethel is justified.

I read a lot of books and this book was tough to get through. I’m not quite sure why that is though. I don’t know whether it was the season in which I found myself when I read it. The subject matter was of interest to me, but Johnson struggled to hold my attention for long periods of time.

Johnson had some really good things to say about how the church can and should influence the culture in which it finds itself and the wisdom it takes to accomplish that. While there were great nuggets throughout the entire book, the overall book didn’t “Wow” me in such a way that I would highly recommend it to people. It’s a worthy read, but not an essential read. The nuggets that I did find and highlighted felt significant, just not as frequently found as I would have liked.

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

Get Wise – A Book Review

get wiseSolomon was the wisest man who ever lived, so it should follow that anything he said should be paid some mind. Despite his imperfections and some of his major mistakes, Bob Merritt still believes that there is a lot to be gained by heeding the advice that Solomon readily doled out within the wisdom books which he wrote, primarily Proverbs. In “Get Wise,” Merritt shares some of his own gleanings from both what Solomon wrote and from his own experience.

Merritt believes that decisions can be detrimental to the direction which our lives take. In fact, he says that there are two pain streams in which we can live: learning from our own pain or learning from the pain of others. Wouldn’t it be so much better if we learned from the mistakes of others rather than having to make our own mistakes?

If we make good decisions, we are likely to head in a good direction. If we make bad decisions, we are more likely to head in a bad direction. If we use the wisdom that God gives us and learn from our experiences and the experiences of others, we can make great decisions every day. Bob Merritt shares on such topics as work ethics, friendships, money, parenting, anger, sex, marriage, and other topics as well. His sharing comes from a place of humility and from his own experiences. He never claims to be an expert but shares the things that he learned from both his successes and failures.

Merritt shares pointers and helpful hints, listing out some things to try in some of these various areas to have success. He shares the importance of relationships and how important it is to surround yourself with people of character who will help you to grow and rise to their level. Merritt offers some great nuggets to be treasured and used.

My one struggle with the book was that even in the midst of his mostly humble approach, Merritt seems to make countless references to his church and the staff there. I appreciate that he counts himself fortunate and grateful for what God has done through him and his church, but at times, the references seem excessive, making it seem as though Eagle Brook Church may trump Disney as the “happiest place on earth” and that if you aren’t a part of it then you aren’t living.

While Merritt doesn’t say anything earth shattering or even new here, the wisdom that he shares is worthwhile to remember or even be reminded of. There’s enough within the book from which to get some good and practical advice and pointers to live a life of good decisions.

(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.)

Whatever You Ask?

What would you do if someone came to you and offered you anything you wanted? Imagine yourself as Aladdin, rubbing the magic lamp and having a genie emerge. Out of everything that’s possible in the world, what would you choose? Would your choice be different depending on when in life this opportunity was given to you?

Well, this actually happened to a king that lived a long time ago. Solomon was King David’s son and the next in line for the throne of Israel and Judah. He was given the opportunity to ask for anything that he wanted when God spoke to him in a dream.

Solomon’s response is pretty fantastic, at least it is to me. He could have asked for anything and this is his response, “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:7-9)

Solomon knows that he can have whatever he wants and he chooses to have a discerning heart. He understands the task set before him and the potential difficulties in that and asks for the very thing that can help him out. He doesn’t ask for riches or power or fame or any other selfish desires, he asks for wisdom. So God grants him wisdom and along with that, he grants him all of the other things that he never asked for.

I think about the many times that I have been offered something, the many times that I have been given a gift and I wonder what my initial reaction is in how to use that gift. Do I want to use it and spread it around? Do I want to keep it to myself?

More often than not, if I’m really honest, if someone gives me a gift, I want to be selfish, I want to keep it all for me. God has been changing my heart to help me realize how much better it is when I take a gift and share it around. Instead of me being the only beneficiary of that gift, I can let others in on the benefits. How cool is that?

I’m not sure that I would have had the same response as Solomon if this opportunity were placed in my lap, even at this point in my life. I hope and pray that my heart is changing and that if given this opportunity, I would choose the gift that would benefit the most number of people.

How about you? What would you do? How would you react if given this same opportunity? Would you use it for yourself or would you use it so that the greatest number of people would benefit?

Better Together

better togetherWe weren’t made to be alone.  No, I’m not saying that to promote the end of singleness.  I’m saying it because we are relational creatures, made in the image of God to be with one another.  The moment that we begin to sequester ourselves from others is the minute that we not only begin to set ourselves up for a fall, but also when we live out of sequence with the intention of the One who created us.

You can learn an awful lot by watching your kids.  My 2 oldest kids are only 23 months apart from each other.  While we have had our fair share of challenging days, we’ve also begun to see the benefits of the natural relationship that forms over time with the two of them.

While my wife was putting our youngest to bed on an evening when I had a meeting, she left the 2 older children downstairs to occupy themselves quietly.  After successfully getting the youngest one to sleep, my wife returned downstairs to find that the oldest had chosen a movie, loaded it into the DVD player, set everything up, and even brought his brother a snack for the movie-watching experience.  What a pleasant surprise takes place when your kids are actually learning some of the things that you have been trying to teach them all along.

When I made an anniversary for my wife for our 10th anniversary video, I used Jack Johnson’s song “Better Together” as one of the background songs.  Over the course of 10 years, my wife and I were constantly reminded that we do things better together.  We get more done cooperatively and we have fun in the process, especially if it’s a task that we’re not necessarily crazy about doing on our own.

We weren’t made to be alone.  The wisest man in the world understood this when he wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

We can find countless stories within Scripture of what happens to people when they spend too much time alone (the story of David and Bathsheba comes to mind).  I’m not recommending that all of the introverts of the world rebel against their natural tendencies to be reserved and quiet, but I am recommending that we come to the realization that we need each other.  We need support.  We need encouragement.  We need prayer.  We need loving arms.  We need sturdy shoulders.  We need each other.

We are a gift to each other, given by God not to selfishly consume, but to lovingly and graciously give.  That’s what Jesus did.  I can’t imagine the number of times that he would probably have liked to tell the disciples to just leave him alone so that he could have a few moments of peace, but instead, he loved them and gave himself to them.  What am I doing to give of myself to others?  My children?  My wife?  My friends?  The people who need me most?  What am I doing to live out the truth that we are better together?

3 Sides to the Story

prejudiceSolomon was the wisest man that ever lived, but that certainly doesn’t mean that he was perfect.  He embraced the way of the culture around him and married many wives.  The Lord gave him incredible wisdom and he was known far and wide for that wisdom.  The Lord allowed him, rather than his father David, to build the temple of God.

Even with all of his wisdom, Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:18, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”  It seems that the more he knew and understood, the more wisdom and knowledge that he gained, the more grief he added to his life.  I wonder how true that is for us.  There is a simplicity to having little information.

Remember what it was like when you were a child.  You didn’t have a lot of understanding and knowledge about the world, and yet, life seemed so free and wonderful.  Worries were less.  Days, especially summer days, seemed eternal with laughter, fun, and activities.  But once we began to learn and understand the world, we began to get a glimpse at what was really happening around us.  The old adage that ignorance is bliss seems to ring true.

In the wake of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin verdict, less information seems like we might be blissfully ignorant.  But the fact of the matter is that we can’t ignore certain facts.  We can’t ignore the fact that the victim was a young African American teenager.  We can’t ignore the fact that prejudice has been deep-seated in our country that, despite legislation and prohibition, still continues to rear its ugly head.

The problem is, we have a tendency to believe the first thing we see, hear, or read rather than taking the time to investigate.  We have to understand that there is more than one side to every story and if we want to exercise wisdom, we need to seek out truth in being informed about every side.  In volatile situations, we tend towards our own preconceived notions rather than seeking out the truth.  When we seek out the truth, it can often lead to disappointment for us, especially when we have cemented ourselves in our own preferences.

I am a middle-aged white male who has known privilege for most of my life.  When the windows of my world began to broaden and my own ignorance was exposed, I was shocked to see that things were much different than I expected.  My parents raised me and my brother not to distinguish between colors and ethnicities.  They lived out Christ’s love to every race in a very personal way and I am grateful for that.  I have not known prejudice to the extent that many in this country have known it.  For that, I am grateful.

But just because I have not experienced it does not mean that I am ignorant of it or that I lack sensitivity towards those who experience it.  Many of those who I know that have experienced racism are incredibly bright and intelligent people.  When they have experienced prejudice, it has had nothing to do with their intellect and has everything to do with the color of their skin.  That saddens me.

But it also saddens me that every time a crime is committed that involves someone of a different ethnicity, the stereotypes come flying out, regardless of whether they are real or not.  Some might say that they are real as long as people experience prejudice and racism within this country.  Some may say that its real because the facts speak to that racism and prejudice.  At what point does it not become an issue and who makes that decision?

I am saddened that a young African American man lost his life.  I am saddened that the answers that have come forth in the case don’t seem to significantly clarify the reality of the case.  I am saddened that there is a man who, even before his trial began, was deemed “guilty” in a country where we claim to believe in innocence until proven guilty.  I am saddened that this case has further divided a country that so desperately needs to learn to coexist and cooperate with one another.

What saddens me more than this is that there are some people in this country who turn an ignorant and blind eye towards prejudice and racism claiming that it does not exist.  Regardless of where a person falls in their opinion about this case, the greater issue is that we need to work towards breaking down the racial barriers that continue to divide us.

We have tried for more than half a century through legislation and other means to break down these barriers, but legislation only goes so far in our relationships.  Relational restoration and reconciliation is the only long-lasting method by which we can begin to heal the hurts and terrors of the past.  This only happens when we come together.  I am doing my part in the relationships that I have to break down these barriers, but I know that I can do more.

Wherever you are today in your opinion, take time to think about the other side, regardless of whether or not you agree.  In looking at things from a different perspective, you just might learn something, and in learning something, you might find that you gain wisdom and knowledge and at the same time, you experience a little grief in the discovery that things are not as you always thought they were.