Thinking Out Loud

February 4, 2013

The Other Gods We Worship

With his book Not a Fan currently riding high atop most lists of Christian bestsellers, Southeast Christian Church pastor Kyle Idleman is back with his second title, Gods at War: Defeating The Idols That Battle for Your Heart   (Zondervan).

This is a book about the various things in life we idolize, creating idols which compete with God who does not want to share top spot in our lives with anything else.  You get a sense of that in this excerpt, part of which reads:

…When we hear God say, “You shall have no other gods before me,” we think of it as a hierarchy: God is always in first place. But there are no places. God isn’t interested in competing against others or being first among many.

Gods at War - Kyle IdlemanGod will not be part of any hierarchy.

He wasn’t saying “before me” as in “ahead of me.” A Better understanding of the Hebrew word translated “before me” is “in my presence.”

God declines to sit atop an organizational flowchart. He is the organization. He is not interested in being president of the board. He is the board. And life doesn’t work until everyone else sitting around the table in the boardroom of your heart is fired. He is God, and there are no other applicants for that position. There are no partial gods, no honorary gods, no interim gods, no assistants to the regional gods.

God is saying this not because he is insecure but because it’s the way of truth in this universe, which is his creation. Only one God owns and operates it. Only one God designed it, and only one God knows how it works…

Kyle Idleman – Gods At War pp. 23-24

While there are definite echoes of things you’ve read elsewhere, Kyle is writing for a new generation of Christian book readers; possibly some for whom Not a Fan was even their first cover-to-cover read of a Christian title; and others who are or will be doing the related six-lesson curriculum study or will be watching the live simulcast on February 27th from City on a Hill Productions.

Kyle Idleman 2013He divides the various gods that compete for our affection and attention into three categories according to where we find them: In the temple of pleasure (food, sex, entertainment), in the temple of power (success, money, achievement), and in the temple of love (romance, family, self-worship). 

The book is a tapestry of contemporary and Biblical stories and for the current ones, QR codes and websites link you to original interview content on video. My only complaint is the lack of a wrap-up chapter, the book ended all too abruptly, but Kyle did warn us that the final god he considers is somewhat at the heart of all the others.

Watch a book trailer for Gods at War here

January 18, 2013

Review: Awakening of Hope – The Video

Several months ago I reviewed the book Awakening of Hope by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, which looks at several of the elements of what is sometimes called the new monasticism.  While there’s no mention of vows of poverty or silence, and nobody is wearing matching robes (or even hoodies), the book is an excellent study of everyday people who either choose to live in community, or find themselves living communally due to circumstances. The link in this paragraph leads you to a list of the six topics actually under study, which include the concept of a shared meal and the importance of pacifism.

Awakening of Hope - Jonathan Wilson-HartgroveI was quite taken by the book. The text is rich, and JW-H has a wealth of travel and experience to draw from in his writing. But all this time I was dying to know what the accompanying video would be like. Finally, I got my wish.

If your perception of Zondervan curriculum involves packages hosted by Philip Yancey or Andy Stanley, you’d be a little out of your depth with this one. Owing more to NOOMA than anything else, the six 15-minute sessions involve some very raw footage — with varying sound levels — that may or may not be in focus. In the very first minute Shane Claiborne is interrupted by a child at the door of the house where he’s filming, Chris Haw is distracted by backyard chickens and the people whose dining room Shane is using come home to find a film crew in their house.

More to the point, the segments are more of an extension to the printed book. When you’ve read the chapter and people have gone around the circle and discussed the various take-outs, you then start the DVD and are immersed in the topic on a whole different — and probably unexpected — level. The interviews — including one with L’Arche founder Jean Vanier — complement rather than continue what the book was discussing. (The book also contains the DVD study questions, there is no additional resource needed.)

I asked Gary O’Dwyer, a local pastor friend who is working with both the book and the DVD to confirm this and he agreed,

“The video is not tied directly to the book. The main portion of the video does offer some very interesting/inspiring individual examples of Hope as well as living Christ’s message.”

The six segments are somewhat equally hosted by Shane and Jonathan, and the DVD also contains nine short bonus clips, including Shane’s story of how The Simple Way got started.  Running time is about 90 minutes total with a U.S. retail of $26.99. Click the image above to watch a three minute preview. If you can only choose one item to purchase, I would suggest getting the book.

November 15, 2012

When Ministry is Just for Pastors

Trey Morgan had this on his blog last week, and rather than just link to it yesterday, I thought it should be seen by the greatest number of people. Visit his blog, TreyMorgan.net, to read this at source.

Trey and Lea Morgan

I love ministry, I really do. But one of my pet peeves is people calling me to do their ministry for them. When God puts someone in your life that needs loving, serving or ministering to … YOU do it. If you need help, I’ll help you … but you try it first. For example, I never mind people calling me and saying, “Can you go check on my neighbor, he’s just had surgery.” I don’t mind one bit, but I must warn you, if you call me and ask me to go check on someone I will ask you, “Have you visited with him first?” If you say, “No,” I will tell you, “God put him on your heart and in your life for a reason. You go check on him first and then I’ll be more than happy to check on him after that.”

Don’t ask me to do something that God is wanting you to do.

This also happens on a regular basis when we have a homeless person come though our community. It’s not unusual for someone to call me and say, “There is a homeless man out here at McDonalds, can you come see if he needs anything?” I regularly respond with, “I’ll be happy to, right after you ask him if he needs some lunch or something else first.” I’m not being lazy or mean, I just want people to stretch in their faith and do things that might make them a little uncomfortable.

Recently this really hit home when one Sunday afternoon my 16 year old son made a trip to Walmart to pick up some things for his mom. Not long after he left he sent me the following text message…

CONNOR: “Dad, there’s a homeless man sitting out here at Walmart.”

ME: “Awesome, see what he needs and I’ll be right out.”

CONNOR: “ME?!?”

ME: “Yes … you. God put him in your life … you can help him.”

CONNOR: “I am helping him.”

ME: “Great, in what way?”

CONNOR: “I’m helping him by sending YOU a text message and telling you to come help him.” :)

I couldn’t help but laugh at Connor because I knew this was out of his comfort zone. He has been with me many times when we’ve picked up homeless people and given them rides or help … but he’s never been the one doing the helping. After a little encouragement Connor bought him a bottle of water and by the time I got out to Walmart he was gone. I was proud of my son and his willingness to show love to someone that made him a bit uncomfortable. I hope he remembers what Jesus said in Matthew 10, “And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.”

How about you? Where can you stretch in your faith this week and minister to someone else?

~Trey Morgan

October 29, 2012

A Snapshot of Monastic Living 2012 Style

While we connected at concerts and music festivals, I never did get around to seeing Jesus People USA‘s operation in inner city Chicago. Long after Cornerstone — both the festival and the magazine — had faded from memory, my interest was piqued again listening to Shane Claiborne talk about The Simple Way in Philadelphia.

But nothing demonstrates the essence of living in Christian community like a read through Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s latest book, The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith (Zondervan, paperback).  Wilson-Hartgrove’s name be familiar to those of you who invested in Common Prayer, a sort of devotional on steroids which offers a complete liturgy for each day of the year.  He’s an associate minister at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, NC, but is probably best known as a leading spokesperson for a movement usually referred to as The New Monasticism, and his blog The Everyday Awakening.

The Awakening of Hope should not surprise anyone by being a type of apologetic for Christian community. Chapter subjects include:

1. Why We Eat Together
2. Why We Make Promises
3. Why It Matters Where We Live
4. Why We Live Together
5. Why We Would Rather Die Than Kill
6. Why We Share Good News

which are also covered in a 6-part DVD. (The print version also includes a chapter on fasting.)

But there’s something here that has a much, much broader application to all of us. You don’t need to have lived in community, toured one, or even known anyone who chose to spend any amount of time in one in order to appreciate the implications of what he writes on those of us who call the suburbs (with 2.4 children and 2.0 vehicles) home.

This book will make you rethink your current expression of faith.

But as I read this book, I could not help notice an uncanny similarity to another Zondervan writer, Philip Yancey. As I wrote for a book trade review these similarities include:

  • written from experiences made possible by extensive world travel in that present-tense voice used by travel writers
  • honest and personal and engaging
  • rich text — any one paragraph could stand on its own for study and further consideration
  • relevant to the situation we find ourselves in, which probably isn’t a monastic community
  • healthy doses of scripture verses that are somewhat cross-indexed or juxtaposed

So we have (a) challenging subject matter that is foreign to the Christian experience of many of us, (b) a writer who knows this subject with great intimacy, (c) a writer who delivers a quality product.

In other words, this is a powerful book.

I’d especially recommend Awakening to anyone who read Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution, the aging rockers who well remember Chicago’s JPUSA, anyone who lived in community at YWAM or some similar training mission, anyone who spent the summer on staff at a Christian camp, anyone who spent time in a mission station overseas, and anyone who has ever wondered what it might mean to sell the house and the SUV and live out their Christian life in a new way.

For a very brief excerpt from the book, click here.

 

January 18, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama

In case you missed it, there was an epic link list here on Saturday, too.  Well, we thought it was epic. Or mega. Or just plain large.  And if you’re reading this on the actual Wednesday, between 00:00 and 23:99 EST, you’re reading it in an internet world without Wikipedia.

April 17, 2011

On Biblical Illiteracy and Forgetting God

A few years back, Wood (Woodrow) Kroll wrote a book which bears the same name as the organization he heads, Back to the Bible (Multnomah Publishing).  The following is taken from pages 67-68:

Two Old Testament prophets from Israel would feel very much at home at the dawn of the twenty-first century.  I think they have much to say to us as the did to those who heard them in person…

Amos was a lowly shepherd from Tekoa (Amos 1:1) a village not far from Bethlehem.  He made no special claims for himself, in fact, when his authority to speak for God was challenged because he was not what people expected of a prophet, Amos said, “I was no prophet nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a sheepbreeder and a tender of sycamore fruit”(7:14).  Amos was a pretty humble guy, but when God appeared to him and said, “Go prophesy to My people Israel” (7:15) he could do nothing else.

Amos prophesied during the days of King Uzziah, when Israel’s economy was flourishing.  He looked at a society in which the people of God had become complacent and noticed that the Jews had no intimacy with the heavenly Father and paid no attention to those charged with teaching them the Word.  When he spoke these words to his countrymen, Amos actually predicted our day: “‘Behold the days are coming,’ says the Lord God, ‘that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord’” (8:11).

That famine has arrived.  In our physical and financial prosperity, the church has become spiritual anemic and biblically illiterate.

The prophet Hosea echoed the cry of Amos.  He ministered to Israel during the chaotic period just before the fall of the nation in 722 B.C.  In that respect he was ominously familiar with what happens to a nation who forgets God and His Word.  Unlike Amos, Hosea was a member of the upper class. He was one of the most unusual prophets of the Old Testament.

Strangely, God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2-9).  His wife, Gomer, eventually returned to her life of sin, but Hosea bought her back from the slave market and restored her as his wife (3:1-5).  Hosea’s unhappy family life served as an illustration of Israel’s sin.  The people of God had fallen out of love with God, grown cold toward Him and no longer heeded His Word.  They rejected the one true God and served pagan Gods.

In that context, Hosea prophesied with words that have a chilling ring for the church of the twenty-first century.  He spoke for God when he said, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.  Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me, because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (4:6). The Israelites forgot God’s law.  They failed to read his word and showed no respect for it.  Therefore God promised that he would forget His people as they had forgotten His Word.  That simply meant that He would withhold His blessing and all the good things that would have been theirs had they spent more time loving God by reading His Word. 

~Wood Kroll

March 15, 2011

What Are Your Spiritual “Numbers?”

We don’t have a high “comments-to-readers” ratio here, and it would probably easier just to give up, but I want to take a run at this anyway, and if we only get a small handful of replies, that’s fine.

Since this is about numbers let’s number the question(s):

  1. C. S. Lewis, among others, advanced the idea of salvation more as a “process” experience more than a “crisis” experience, but for most Christians — especially Evangelicals — emphasis is placed on remembering specific cathartic moments when we “crossed the line of faith.”  So as you think to that time, what age were you when you, depending on the type of language used, “accepted” Christ or acknowledged him for the first time??
  2. Churches impose other spiritual “rites of passage.”  While we don’t have confirmation in the tradition that I grew up in, believers baptism by immersion was the norm.   What age were you when you really (a) went public with your faith, or (b) affirmed or confirmed a commitment you may have made at a younger age??
  3. Spiritual formation doesn’t always follow a straight graph line, and doesn’t always conform to the age at which we participated in certain church experiences.  Was there a later time where through circumstances or some other “ah ha!” moment things crystallized for you spiritually??  A time that Jesus went from being ‘savior’ to being ‘Lord’??
  4. It’s not about numbers.   What do you make of the numbers you responded with?? Perhaps your spiritual walk is more characterized by a “new every morning” kind of journey.  Are there things we can learn by looking back to see how far we’ve come, or by sharing our story with others??
  5. Are you moving closer to the cross??  Do you see yourself maturing spiritually, or do you long for the experiences or zeal or joy you had as you reflect on previous days?

Comment moderation Tuesday will be mostly after 6:00 PM EDT

January 6, 2011

Sending Your Pastor Back for a Road Test

This first appeared here in January, 2009.

driving-test-sample-questions-scenario1With my mind wandering during a post-supper phone call, I wondered what would happen if, just as some jurisdictions require you to do a fresh road test after 20 years in order to keep driving, your pastor had to appear before a doctrinal committee like the one that ordained him (or her) originally. Just to make sure all his (or her) doctrinal oars are still in the water.

But why target pastors? Board members and Sunday School teachers would be next, followed by you, the average Joe (or Joanne). After a couple of decades serving on committees or helping in the nursery or whatever it is you do; you’d be brought before a group of examiners to make sure that you still have a grasp on, and still hold to the basic tenets of, the core of what we call the Christian faith.

Would people be as nervous leading up this event as they would be if they had to do a fresh road test to keep their driver’s license? Do you think you could pass? Would you be praying they asked easy questions? Do you consider, “Why did Jesus have to die?” to be an easy question?

November 20, 2010

Getting Plugged In

Since starting Christianity 201 in April, I find myself on a daily quest to see what devotional material other bloggers are posting online.   Part of this was the discovery of the Australian blogger known simply as Cloudwatcher, who posts “Daily Bread” styled illustrative stories accompanied by bold graphics.    Meeting in the Clouds is a devotional blog that your teens and perhaps even younger children might enjoy; but it offers good truths that the rest of us need, too.

Earlier this week she posted a story that involved a major school fire that took several hundred lives.   The value of the illustration was somewhat striking, but I was surprised I’d not heard the story before, so I did some research, and the report is quite true, though her “a few years ago,” was actually prior to World War II.   Hey, time is all relative, right?

Have you ever thought of writing something devotional?   Christianity 201 is always looking for guest posts.   In the meantime, here’s Cloudwatcher’s post, complete with stolen borrowed graphics!

by Cloudwatcher

Several years ago there was a school fire in Itasca, Texas, which claimed the lives of 263 children.  What a horrifying tragedy!

When a new school was built, it boasted the finest sprinkler system in the world. The citizens of Itasca would never again face another tragedy like that!

Tours were conducted through the new school, showcasing the acclaimed sprinkler system. It brought comfort to parents.

Seven years later, as the school grew, it became necessary to add more rooms to the buildings.  As construction workers made alterations they discovered that the state-of-the-art water sprinklers had never been connected.

That school had the absolute best at their disposal but it was never “hooked up” to the supply.

I must admit that sometimes I am like that.
As a Christian, I have the TOTAL RESOURCES of GOD Himself at my disposal.

  • I have the absolute solution to any problem.
  • I have His power to resist temptation.
  • I have His power to overcome bad habits.
  • I have grace added to abundant grace to enable me to cope with any situation.

But do I “hook up”? Or do I first try to handle things in my own way, in my own strength?  (which will always fail)

I wonder how much would change if we Christians constantly and continually hooked into God‘s available power – if we truly lived as we should, to His glory?

  • Dear God, I have a problem:  it is ME.
  • The more we depend on God, the more dependable we find Him to be.
  • Life’s greatest privilege is to be a co-laborer with God.

Link:  Here’s another recent article from Meeting in the Clouds.

October 21, 2010

Anne Jackson Redfines “Earning The Right To Be Heard”

I thought the service where we were guest worship leaders had gone rather well.   I had mixed some pieces this congregation knew with some extra verses that would be new to them, and had arranged the 20 minute worship set so that the songs would really flow from one to the other.   Frankly, I was looking to relocate to be able to continue leading worship in a church like this, where I felt the musical assistance would be truly needed.

Afterward, the pastor invited us out for lunch, but it seemed like an hour before we were finally eating a restaurant that seemed unnecessarily distant.   My oldest started wandering back and forth into the lobby which had chocolate bars and other confectionery items to tempt him.   I told him firmly, “no;” but my wife didn’t hear that and minutes later he came back enjoying a large sugar treat.   Furthermore, we were wanting to press on in our journey to visit my father, who was in hospital recovering from a heart attack.

So, it’s no surprise that we didn’t make a good impression.   A week later, our honorarium arrived with a multi-page letter, written in southern U.S. drawl, informing us, “Y’all shouldn’t be doing ministry; y’all are needing ministry.”

…I took several weeks to prayerfully consider everything he said in that letter, and finally I wrote back to say that life is not perfect and we’re not perfect; we’re a young couple with a couple of really young kids who were under a great deal of stress on the day we met; but that we felt the worship service had gone extremely well, and felt that once it ended, with just him and us in the restaurant, we could be completely transparent.   We felt at that point we were no longer “on the clock” in terms of public ministry.

# # #

There are going to be people who read Anne Jackson’s Permission to Speak Freely and say, “Anne, y’all shouldn’t be doing ministry; y’all should be getting ministry.”     There are ways in which they’d be right, but absent a book like this, the world would be a poorer place.   In fact, to make such a suggestion would be to miss the point of the book entirely.

This is a book about honestly and transparency and being willing to stick your neck out and say the things that nobody is willing to say in church.   It’s about being the one person in the small group who breaks the endless silence and is willing to be the first one to be totally vulnerable and thereby, in Anne’s words, give everyone else “permission to be second.”

After getting a very early copy of Anne’s first book, Mad Church Disease (Zondervan), I got a review copy of Permission to Speak Freely (Thomas Nelson) after most bloggers had finished covering this title.   In a way that’s rather appropriate, because this is a book that we need to be reminded of from time to time, that is going to be part of the help and healing of many who are broken.

I think it’s significant that Anne has found her writing to be a redemptive work for the things in her past.   It’s significant that she has been able to get two books (so far) out of those experiences.   It’s significant that two of our industry’s largest publishers have been willing to take a chance on her brutal honesty and openness.

Here’s what I mean (italics added):

I find it interesting that in our current culture we identify the church as a safe place for broken people to find refuge.  Church is a place for us to claim the right of a modern day sanctuary where we can name our sins and ask our questions and be protected and sheltered while we search for grace, forgiveness and answers.

Yet as history shows us, for hundreds of years churches have been sacrificing the beauty of confession and brokenness for religious trappings and the malady of perfectionism. In some cases if we don’t measure up to a man-made cocktail of moral codes and checklists — if we aren’t “good enough” — we no longer feel welcomed in a church or around other Christians.

The full title is: Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace (Thomas Nelson, paperback $16.99 U.S)   This isn’t about someone living an exemplary life and thereby earning the right to write a book about it.   It’s very much the opposite.

It’s a very messy story, which we so very desperately need to hear.

Related at this blog:   Here’s an early reference I made to the book last month in connection with a breaking news story.

Related elsewhere:   Here’s the link to Donald Miller’s blog, which is stop number one on a seven stop blog tour containing chapters from Anne’s book.   Each essay concludes with a link to the next sample chapter.

Here’s the link to Anne’s blog and also the link to the special Facebook page set up in connection of the book. (Must be logged in to Facebook; on arrival select “slideshows.”)

Older Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.