A Disruptive Gospel – A Book Review

Ipier_disruptivegospel_wSpine.inddn the first chapter of “A Disruptive Gospel” Mac Pier shares his own experience of coming to understand and embrace the gospel. He explains the gospel and then lays out five specific matters which we should organize our lives around if we embrace the gospel and Jesus. The five matters are: the gospel matters, church unity matters, cities matter, millennial leadership matters, and movements matter. Pier spends the rest of the book emphasizing these matters.

Pier reiterates his point about unity multiple times through the book. He writes, “Division in the church breeds atheism in the world.” His reiteration of this is great that it’s hard to think there isn’t some kind of back story. As much as he emphasizes unity within the church, it doesn’t seem that he is overly promoting ecumenical ministries. The bigger issue within cities is the segregation that exists within churches. The lack of integration within churches can be just as great of a hindrance to the gospel as disunity.

“A Disruptive Gospel” also promotes an awareness of, care for, and raising up of millennial leaders. Millennial leaders are the church of today and tomorrow, to disregard or ignore them is to almost purposefully seek the death knell of God’s church, although I don’t believe anything can kill God’s church. There needs to be strategic movements and intentional plans to seek ways to transition the youth of today into leaders by discipling them and investing in them. One leader shares, “Young people desperately want a ‘third place’ to connect, and very few churches provide that space. There is virtually no transition from youth group to a larger church gathering on Sundays.”

The movements that have occurred and are occurring within U.S. cities such as New York and Dallas are the focus of many of the early chapters within “A Disruptive Gospel.” Movement Days have been started within cities with the realization that cities shape culture, gospel movements shape cities, and leaders catalyze movements. The idea behind Movement day was to create a convergence between the prayer movements that are taking place within the church as well as the church planting movement that is taking place in the church. As Pier says, “What our cities need more than anything is a maturing and deepening of relationship between diverse Christian leaders within the same city. Missional unity is the ball game.”

Education and information are key factors in seeing a gospel movement take off. Pier writes, “We can love only that which we know. The more we know about our community, our church, or our city, the more we will care about its well-being. Research compels us to act.” How can we reach people that we don’t know and don’t know about? If we fail to know them, we will fail to love them. We need to become more aware of the people who Jesus wants to be a part of his kingdom, not necessarily the ones who are already in the kingdom and the church, but those who may be the furthest away.

Pier goes on to share about what is taking places within cities throughout the world. The United Kingdom. Dubai. Germany. South Africa. The Philippines. God is at work throughout the world and there is much to be learned about what is being done and tried all around.

The subtitle for “A Disruptive Gospel” is “Stories and Strategies For Transforming Your City.” The first half of the book seemed to move along fairly well. There were nuggets of information and good insights that I thought were really helpful. As the book moved on, the information seemed repetitive and dry, less about story sharing and more about information sharing. My interest waned as it went on. So, I could almost give two different reviews for the two halves of this book.

Overall, there was good information in here. That information could probably have been shared in half the space that it took. If you don’t mind skimming a book to find the nuggets that lie along the way, you might want to read “A Disruptive Gospel.” If you are expecting a book that moves along at a decent pace, holding your interest at every page, you may want to read something by the guy who wrote the foreword of the book, Tim Keller.

(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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Winding Down

As my three month sabbatical winds down, it’s hard to put in words the impact that it has had on me. There have been some people who have, whether jokingly or not, assumed that it has just been a three month vacation for me. That’s hardly been the case as I have engaged in training and learning experiences along the way. Not to oversell the moment, but I feel as if the lessons learned during this time will have a ripple effect for months and years to come, both in my immediate family as well as my church family.

I’ve learned an awful lot about myself during this time, some that has made me happy and some that has made me reconsider my approaches towards things. I consider myself to be a person who is constantly assessing myself and the things that I do. I don’t like status quo for the sake of the status quo but would rather see if I can be stretched and challenged to find new and different ways to be who God made me as well as do the things that I need to do.

As I knew setting out, there were some things that just wouldn’t get done while on sabbatical. I feel like I set my sights high without going into “overachiever” mode. I have found in the past that I have often set my sights so high that my own inability to accomplish things ended up being a frustration or bone of contention to me. Instead of feeling like I was improving, I focused more on all the things that I didn’t accomplish, which wasn’t helpful for me or the process of growth.

I have found that we as a society too often move quickly from one thing to the next without fully embracing what’s before us or allowing the experience to wash over us, change us, and reform us. It’s happened far too often in my own life and I’ve seen the results afterwards. In some ways, it’s like taking the caterpillar out of the cocoon before it’s fully been formed into a butterfly. The results are not nearly as satisfying as they could be had the process taken full affect. In fact, the results can be disastrous if the process of growth is stunted or stopped.

One of the biggest takeaways for me, which I am sure will be unpacked more and more in the months to come, is about slowing down. I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have heard from parents of older children how quickly time goes. There is no stopping or slowing down the passing of time, it marches on regardless of whether or not we want it to or go along with it. Some will put the brakes on and will find themselves left behind in the wake of a changing world. Some may embrace the change so greatly that they forget that the change is not for change’s sake but for the sake of a changed self.

While I can’t slow time, I can slow myself. I don’t have to conform to the ways of harried schedules and overcommitments. I don’t have to allow myself to get washed into the stream of busyness that seems to haunt us all if we aren’t careful. I can’t slow time, but I can choose what to do with the time that I have.

I have no doubt that memories have been made in me and my family during my three months. I have no doubt that I am different than I was at the outset of this sabbatical. Like Frodo and the hobbits sitting in their local pub having come back from the journey of a lifetime, the world is different and there is no choice but to see it through new eyes, eyes that somehow look clearer and more vivid than they did before.

I don’t fully know all that has happened within me over this time, but I am going to do my best to probe and mine it, to find out what’s beneath the surface, to see the changes that have begun to take shape and form in me. My prayer is that those changes will ripple far beyond me into all those that I come into contact with on a regular basis.

Stripped

reflection escherI am currently a few weeks into a thirteen week sabbatical. The purpose of this sabbatical is to rest, recharge, and also learn. I need rest and recharge and I am finding that the time of learning during this sabbatical is different than the normal mode of learning that I experience in other times in my life. While I am constantly seeking to learn and better myself throughout the other seasons of my life, this sabbatical forces me to look at myself without the other distractions (good or bad) in my life.

True reflection should feel intimate and personal. It shouldn’t necessarily be comfortable as you’re getting a glimpse into things that you may not have seen before. In the past, I’ve compared it to those magnifying mirrors that women sometimes use while putting on makeup; they magnify your face to the point that you can see every blemish and imperfection, like it or not. True reflection should give us a glimpse of who we really are, without dressings and distractions.

I am finding that stripping away the things that normally crowd out self-reflection causes me to simply stand in front of the mirror with nothing left to hide behind. I am stripped of all pretenses and coverings and I stand there exposed. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run, I see what truly exists.

The challenge may be whether to continue to look in that mirror. If I don’t like what I see, it could be very easy for me to run away, to hide, to cover myself up. In some ways, it seems like a throwback to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ran and hid themselves once they were aware of their nakedness. They knew that they were exposed and they were afraid. So they ran.

When faced with our true reflection, our tendency may be to run and hide, but if we really want to grow and learn, we must face the sometimes gruesome reality of who we really are, warts and all. We need to take a long, hard look at the reflection that we see in that mirror and decide what we are going to do when faced with that reality. Will we soak it all in and then simply walk away, forgetting what we saw? Or will we drink it in and seek to make changes in the reflection that we see before us?

This isn’t a new dilemma, there are others who have seen the same thing. James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, made similar observation in his letter when he wrote in James 1:23-24, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” So, it’s a challenge that humanity has faced for centuries, millennia even.

When all is stripped away and we are faced with who we really are, do we like what we see? If we don’t like what we see, where do we run to in order to cover up our discomfort and dissatisfaction with the reflection that we see?

Looking in the mirror of self-reflection shouldn’t be a discouraging process, yet it always seems to feel that way for me. I rarely ever glimpse the parts of me that are being reformed and reshaped. My focus always seems to be what needs improvement and I’m trying to figure out whether that’s a nature or nurture thing.

Regardless of where it came from, I know that things can change. Standing in front of that mirror and faced with the reflection, how will I respond? Will I be honest about the reflection, or will I run? Will I simply see what needs changing or will I see the places that have been transformed since the last time?

To be encouraged by my reflection, I can’t simply look once a year or once every five years, I need to constantly look back at my reflection, not in an obsessive way but in a way that truly seeks to be transformed and changed into the image in which I was originally created, the imago dei. If I am looking at that reflection often, I will see those parts that are different than the last time I looked, I will see those changes that might be subtle but are changes nonetheless.

So, how about you? What do you do when you see your reflection? Do you like what you see? What are you doing to change what’s there staring back at you?

We Are the Change

we are the change

I’ll be honest, politics disgust me. I both admire and abhor politicians. I admire them for the willingness and boldness to step into a broken system while abhorring them for the same thing. Our political system has come to such a flawed and degraded state that it’s hard to believe that change can happen without a major overhaul and restructure.

Just look at the impending November election. Opinions are fully entrenched on both sides of the political fence. The only bipartisanship that exists is in the opinion of Donald Trump, the supposed GOP frontrunner and both Republican and Democratic loathing of him. The devolution of values and ideals has come to parallel many people’s approach in the sporting world, specifically in Baseball when people like “anyone but the Yankees” or college basketball when people root for “anyone but Duke.” People simply don’t want to see Trump as president and so would elect Clinton in an effort to keep Trump from the office or vice versa.

I’m not sure the last time that I watched a State of the Union address. To be honest, I think this is an area of growth for me. Regardless of whether or not I agree with the sitting president, there is some respect that should be shown to the office despite personality or ideology. I’m learning in this area and need a lot of work, I can be honest about that.

President Obama’s valedictory SOTU address was no exception. In our fast-paced world of technology and information, it seems slightly unnecessary to watch for an hour what will be summarized and highlighted in a brief five or ten minutes the next morning.

As I read through the highlights of the SOTU address on my chosen news source (which is neither MSNBC or Fox News), I read a statement that President Obama made that stood out to me. He stated, “I believe in change because I believe in you!….we are the change we seek.” Those were interesting words, words that could easily inspire, but words that seem fundamentally flawed, at least to me in my own theology, ideology, and politicality.

Earlier that morning, before reading the highlights of the SOTU address, I met with my friend and accountability partner. We have been looking at 1 Kings and were talking through Solomon and some of his missteps in his reign as king of Israel. I made the comment that I was frustrated with myself for turning my mood and attitude on a dime. One moment I could be charged up, encouraged, and joyful and then I could move to an arrogant, impatient, and angry jerk. The repeated pattern had begun to frustrate and even disgust me.

As I talked it out, I couldn’t help but hear my own words, “I’m trying” and “I’m working” and realize that was one of the main problems. As someone who wholeheartedly believes in God and in the power of the Holy Spirit to change and reform a person, I know through my own life how changes have taken place and I know that the credit cannot be taken by me.

No matter how caring, giving, or altruistic one claims to be, at the heart of each and every one of us is lies selfishness. I know that many (if not all) will push back on me here, but I firmly believe that even in our altruism, we can be selfish in seeking out a feeling for ourselves. We can do good things and help people, but at the heart of those actions, if not for a motivation outside of ourselves, we are still being selfish.

I commend the President for his thoughts. I get what he is trying to say and think that he’s halfway there, but the problem becomes when we try to do things ourselves and think that we’re doing it in our own power and strength. I always find two things are true, 1) we’re better together, when we work with others and 2) we’re better with God who gives us the power, strength, wisdom, and know-how to move forward.

Yes, the change lies somewhere in us, we can’t seek for others to make that change happen if we aren’t willing to be part of it. There will be no president or elected official who will swoop in and save the day. Superman is a myth. Israel wanted a king, just like the other nations, and thought that it would help and solidify their place, but it turns out that God was right in the end, he was the one who was to be their king because humans are human, faulty, broken, selfish, and flawed.

We all need restoration. We all need redemption. We may be the change, but in order for us to be the change, we need to be changed first!

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.)

Jared, Josh, and Jesus

jared and joshUp until a few weeks ago, I had no idea who or what Ashley Madison was. While I probably knew that websites and services like Ashley Madison existed, I didn’t know them by name. Maybe I hoped that they weren’t true, kind of like those stories that you hear about as a kid that you keep hoping beyond hope aren’t true. Maybe it was a case of “ignorance is bliss” for me and I didn’t want to know that Ashley Madison existed.

I’ve never seen an episode of 19 Kids and Counting either. I’ve heard the Duggars name tossed around here and there, but I just kind of figured they were one of those crazy homeschool families that all of my homeschooling friends didn’t want to be associated with and all of my non-Christian friends wanted to label as “those weird Christians.”

While I eat at Subway from time to time, it’s not among my favorite places to go, regardless of its ties to my home state of Connecticut. I’ve not found myself gravitating towards the Subway diet and Jared’s connection and promotion of the food chain has had no influence on my preference or lack thereof for it.

And then, like that, all that I needed to do to hear about Ashley Madison, Josh Duggar, Jared Fogle, and the downward spiral of all of the above was to turn on the TV or hop on the internet. These names were plastered all over the screens. While it’s been said that no publicity is bad publicity, I don’t think that this is the kind of publicity that you ever want.

I mean, who wants everyone to know that the values that you touted and stood so strongly in favor of were actually a sham and that you had been living your life as a phony and a hypocrite? Who wants everyone to know that the position that you had gained to influence the world for good had actually been turned around and used for bad? Who wants everyone to know that despite the “put together” outward appearance that you had been conveying, there was a whole lot of other stuff going on beneath the surface? Who wants everyone to know what evil REALLY lurks in the hearts of men?

News of Josh Duggar’s involvement with Ashley Madison, as is often the case with the downfall of vocal Christians, was cause for rejoicing for those who consider Christianity to be a sham and who are looking for any and every possible way to disprove it because of the imperfections and flaws of its followers. It made me wonder if every ideology that was ever embraced should be questioned because of the flawed and imperfect people who embrace it.

It’s so easy in the midst of all of this to point fingers and say, “That would never be me,” but I’ve lived enough life of my own to know that the distance between me and an act of indiscretion is probably much shorter than I can even imagine. How many times have we heard someone publicly condemn a behavior only to be found guilty of that very behavior not too far in the future? How many times have we judged a person’s behavior without actually examining our own heart to see what really lurks there beneath the surface?

I’m not saying that what Josh and Jared did wasn’t wrong, it was and there are consequences for bad behavior, but instead of pointing fingers, maybe it’s an opportunity for us to examine ourselves and see if there are safeguards, guardrails, and other protections that we need to put in place in our own lives to avoid making some of the same mistakes. Not that we’re all just one step away from an affair or from being charged for child pornography and soliciting minors for sex, but maybe there are other things that seem more innocuous in comparison from which we are only one step away.

There have been times when I’ve stopped to look at my heart and I’ve been ashamed of what I saw there. There have been times when I’ve realized that as much as God has transformed some areas of my life, there are some other areas that need far more transformation than I’d like to admit. There have been times that I have begun to fully appreciate and understand just how deeply I need to be saved. There have been times when I see just how far I fall short of representing him and of being made more and more like him every day.

I don’t know what’s lurking in the hearts of Josh Duggar or Jared Fogle, but I know what’s lurking in my heart, and it’s not always pretty. I guess admitting you’ve got a problem is the first step towards fixing it. I’m not perfect and I won’t stand up and attest to any contrary admission. I need Jesus. On my own, I could be the subject of countless headlines, the recipient of endless public ridicule and scorn. On my own, I would simply do my best to present a whitewashed image of who I am while desperately hoping and praying that no one peeked to see what was really inside. Just like the Wizard of Oz said to the misfits seeking answers and gifts, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” On my own, I could do a really good job pretending that I had it all together and that the filthiness of sin hadn’t touched me.

I need Jesus.

I am striving every day to allow my life to be changed and transformed by a power that lies outside of me. I am striving every day to stop pointing my fingers so desperately at others in an effort to make me feel better about myself. I am striving every day to let the trips, falls, and failures of others act as a mirror instead to help me see just what’s lurking inside of me that desperately needs changing. I need these things to be revealed in me so that I know what needs to be changed.

Tomorrow, there will be another story in the news of someone who has fallen from grace, someone who has pretended to be something that they’re not. Tomorrow, there will be another story in the news of someone who has done something that appalls us, that may even make our skin crawl. Maybe instead of pointing our fingers at them, we need instead to take a closer look at ourselves to find out just what we’re pretending doesn’t exist within our own hearts. I think if we spent a little more time looking at our own areas in need of transformation, we might fixate less on what needs to be changed in others, and in the end, maybe we could actually help others with their stuff after we’ve allowed transformation to happen in ourselves.

Swimming In Grace

When we started our church more than two years ago, we knew that name was important. We knew that when you name something, it can be a powerful instrument in signifying identity.

Over and over throughout the Bible, people’s names mattered. Often, when they would experience a life-changing event, their name would be changed. Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Saul becomes Paul.

Names matter and we knew it.

As we poured through Scripture to see what possibilities there might be for us, we kept coming back to one word: restore. Among the verses that come to mind is Joel 2:25, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.” After much consideration, we knew that we had to have the word “restoration” in our name.

But we also knew that any time that you have something in your name, you had better expect that your identity and who you are would deal with that specific thing. We knew that putting “restoration” in our name would involve more than just a trendy or hip sounding name, but it would mean that we would be involved with the restoration that the Gospel brings to people’s lives…..at least, if we really took seriously the name and the task set before us.

Over that time since we first launched out at a middle school, I have been awed by the many ways that God has worked to make that happen and humbled by the fact that, at times, he has used me as an instrument of his grace and a means of pointing people towards the life-changing power of the Gospel which brings restoration.

Yesterday was one of those days.

There are moments when I show up on a Sunday morning and I am dangerously close to “phoning it in.” My attitude isn’t always the greatest and I’m watching the clock to see when we’ll be done. That’s the attitude with which I come in with at times.

In the process of the morning, though, I find my heart being changed. I find that my attitude starts to improve. If it doesn’t, I usually look back and marvel at the fact that God was still able to use me, despite my bad attitude. Usually I’m feeling a slight twinge of guilt knowing that I was wrong from the beginning.

But there are other times when I show up and I’m ready. I’m ready for God to do something special. Not because I’m special or gifted, but because he’s God, because he wants restoration to take place in the lives of his people and in the lives of those who have yet to meet him and know him.

That’s how I showed up yesterday.

I recently retook the StrengthsFinders test to see my top 5 strengths. This being the third time that I have taken it over the past 14 years, my strengths had changed slightly again. Making its debut appearance among my strengths was “Self-assurance.” A brief description from the StrengthsFinders 2.0 book, “Self-assurance is similar to self-confidence, In the deepest part of you, you have faith in your strengths. You know that you are able – able to take risks, able to meet new challenges, able to stake claims, and, most important, able to deliver.” I have confidence, even more so because of who I am in Christ. I know my strengths and know that I can be used by God if I am diligent and faithful in what he’s given me.

It was with that confidence that I came yesterday morning. I had done my part to study and prepare a message. I had leaned on God in the midst of that preparation, seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. Now I needed to have confidence in what he had given me and confidence in who he was, the author and perfecter of our faith. As I came, I came knowing that God was going to speak to someone just as strongly as he had spoken to me all during my preparation.

As I sat in the front row with my fellow pastor, we whispered to one another as the dots were connected and themes seamlessly weaved themselves through our prayers, the music, and the message.

Afterwards, I knew that God had done the work. I leaned on his words in Isaiah 55:10-11, ““For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Afterwards, I was swimming in grace, knowing that God had used a simple, broken, imperfect vessel like me to bring a Gospel message to a dry land, a place in need of restoration.

The thing about Sunday nights and Monday mornings for pastors is that they can be lonely times. They can be letdowns, of sorts. After pouring your heart and soul into preparation and delivery of a message, you feel tapped out, emotionally, spiritually, physically.

That’s why I needed the reminder of grace, and there’s nothing better than swimming in it, immersing myself completely in it, to better understand and appreciate just how powerful that message is and what it means to me. When I take myself out of the picture, or at least put myself in the second chair where I belong, it’s much easier to avoid the disappointment. When I allow myself to sit in the first chair, then of course I will be disappointed because, in and of myself, I am unable to sustain things in the same way that the Giver of Life does.

After multiple conversations with people afterwards and then some additional words of encouragement in message form later on, I was able to rest in the grace of God that had sustained me and had used me, not because of who I am by myself, but because of who I am in Christ.

And just as I had started the day swimming, I ended it swimming as well. My family and I took a trip to the pool and spent a few hours there. I was immersing myself in a different kind of grace at that point, the grace of God to use me in the simple situations as well.

As I waded into the water, with kids hanging on my arms, I looked up to the sky and smiled.

Grace comes in different forms and at different times. Yesterday, I saw a bit of the gamut of that grace and it brought a smile to my face.

If there is any encouragement at all, it is this, that God can use one such as I to be an instrument of that grace despite my imperfections and my flaws. Every day I make new mistakes, often I make the same ones, but God’s grace works through those mistakes and picks me up, humbling me, changing me, and transforming me to be who I need to be in him.

Today is Monday, but when I start with grace, it doesn’t feel so much like a Monday at all.

The Daniel Plan – A Book Review

The Daniel PlanTypically, Christians can be pretty good about pointing out egregious and socially unacceptable practices and sins. It’s why so many people who don’t follow Christ have a perception that all Christians are judgmental and divisive. When Christians point out certain sins while continuing to practice others, their consistency and witness are tainted and they can easily become ineffective at witnessing to the transformative power of the Gospel.

One such sin that had gone mostly unnoticed, or at least unaddressed, was the sin of gluttony. Along with gluttony, with the hope of our future resurrection, many Christians don’t see self-care and attending to one’s physical body as a major concern or priority. At least, it hadn’t been a concern and priority for many years.

Pastor Rick Warren came to a startling realization while baptizing many people in his church in Southern California: many of them were overweight. When he looked harder, he realized that he himself had a weight issue as well. How could he serve as an example to his congregation to take care of their bodies when he was such a poor model?

It was through this realization that Warren partnered with medical doctors, Daniel Amen and Mark Hyman, to come up with the Daniel Plan. In his own words, “The Daniel Plan is far more than a diet. It is a lifestyle program, based on biblical principles and five essential components: Food, Fitness, Focus, Faith, and Friends.” Together, Warren and these doctors came up with a holistic approach to move him and his congregation towards better health, physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.

Using the Biblical example of Daniel and his friends in the court of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, Warren, Amen, and Hyman have put together a plan to succeed in achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Just as Daniel and his friends bucked the system in Babylon to stay healthy and strong, so can we buck the system of fast food, genetically altered ingredients, and inactive lifestyles to stay healthy and strong ourselves.

At first glance and upon diving into the first portion of “The Daniel Plan,” it seems that Warren has settled into his modus operandi as it begins to read like a companion or sequel to “The Purpose Driven Life,” Warren’s best-selling book that put his church on the map and began a revolution among some evangelical churches. His use of Scripture can be suspect as he seems to find many proof texts to support what he is saying. While the Scripture does not seem to be misused or used completely out of context, at times it reads like a self-help book or a “Better Me, Better You” kind of book.

Essentially, that’s what “The Daniel Plan” really is: a book about helping yourself. Warren does not go the way of pop psychology though, he fully admits that the changes necessary to move towards a healthy life He writes, “Trying to change by willpower along is exhausting. You can keep it up for a while, but it feels unnatural and stressful to force yourself to be different simply on the basis of willpower.” Warren informs the reader that this kind of life-change can only occur through building your life on truth, through wise choice, through new thinking, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and through the power of community.

Throughout the book, the writers constantly remind the readers to pace themselves. This is not a life-change that will happen overnight. They suggest starting small, writing down goals, finding accountability partners, and taking it one step at a time. They offer suggestions and pointers on what steps might be taken. The book is full of sample lists and even contains exercise and meal plans in order to begin implementing necessary changes into your life to make lasting change happen.

It might seem overwhelming at first, but the steps offered by the authors make it seem possible. There are links to websites in which you can begin to keep a journal or even download an app in order to document and track your progress along the 40 day journey. Once the 40 days are up, they encourage the reader to continue on, step up their game, keep moving on a healthy lifestyle track.

“The Daniel Plan” is a faith-based program to move to a healthy lifestyle. While there may be portions of the book that seem hokey or shallow, overall, there is good information here. The authors share relevant statistics that may be eye-opening to some readers. They have done their homework in putting together this plan and it has been tried and tested by the population of Warren’s mega church and shown to be effective and useful.

If you are unsure where to start in moving towards a healthy lifestyle or you want to give someone you love a helpful resource for themselves, “The Daniel Plan” is a great place to start.

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

The Road We Travel

windingpath

Life is full of milestones and bookends. At the end of one path begins another. At the end of every chapter, another one starts.

This past weekend, my family and I attended three separate graduation parties. All three of the graduates were oldest children, the first ones out of the nest and on to college. It’s the ending of a chapter and the starting of another one. In some ways, it can even be a change of genre as the mood and tone of the story seems to change. In the blink of an eye, as so many have said before, these once little children have grown up and are now beginning to go about to be who they are.

Parents spend all of their children’s youth trying to prepare them for what is to come and it seems an almost helpless feeling to simply let them go, to trust that what you have instilled in them will stick, will take root and flourish. It’s a matter of trust, and for those who have faith in God, a matter of prayer as well.

The path on which we travel can be formative……if we allow it to be so. It can shape us and form us, change us and grow us, but we need to be willing to embark on the journey, no matter where that journey may lead us, how that path may twist and turn.

My mom and I were very close, and even during the tumultuous times of the teenage years, we had a special bond. I remember her sharing a poem with me that has never left my mind throughout the years. It’s a great reminder of God’s hand in the midst of the journey on which we find ourselves. As we travel down the road, following the path before us, it may not always look like how we thought it would or should, but we need to trust that God, in his sovereignty, doesn’t make mistakes.

My Father’s way may twist and turn,
My heart may throb and ache,
But in my soul I’m glad to know,
He makes no mistakes,

My cherished plans may go astray,
My hopes may fade away,
But still I’ll trust my Lord to lead,
For He doth know the way,

Though the night be dark and it may seem,
That day will never break,
I’ll pin my faith, my all in Him,
He makes no mistake,

There’s so much now I cannot see,
My eyesight’s far too dim,
But come what may, I’ll simply trust,
And leave it all to Him,

For by and by the mist will lift,
And plain it all He’ll make,
Through all the way, though dark to me,
He made not one mistake.

– A.M. Overton, 1932