Friday, October 16, 2020

Book Review: God and the Pandemic by N.T. Wright

 I wish I didn’t wait until my own life was in crisis to pick up a book by Tom Wright. He always, always, always brings a fresh practical perspective. Wright never fails at this in what he writes.

Wright writes. 

He writes things that will affirm what you already think on the un-crazy side of your brain. “That’s exactly what I think” you’ll hear yourself say out loud. Other times, you’ll think, “wow, I never thought about things that way... it makes so much sense.” 

I'm grateful Wright provides a solid, intelligent framework for thinking, feeling sad, and applying correction to your current crazy impulses. You’ll definitely want to share this book with friends, and even more importantly, your leaders. 


Friday, May 31, 2019

New post on book blogging project

Whenever I get into a conversation about Allie, inevitably people will ask me about Charity. The whole Allie story is heart breaking, and people are especially moved by what Charity has had to go through.

I added post 23 to our book blogging project. Check it out here.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Grief. Is it ever good, Charlie Brown?

I've heard that this time of year is especially difficult for those whose lives have been touched by tragedy or loss. I'm not aware of the statistics, but anecdotal stories abound. Coming off of the long Thanksgiving weekend, while celebratory for many of us, we've also been reminded by loss in our lives. So many of us are in different stages of healing from that loss.

Yesterday my friend Gus posted a picture of a marquee with this quote:
"If you are more fortunate than others, build a longer table, not a taller fence."

Let's live that way this holiday season. You can both celebrate AND go through grief together. But don't do either alone. One way to get through it is to give yourself away. I write about that here in the 22nd post in our book-blogging project.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

In the middle of the Bible is a collection of the best poetry ever written. These poems explore, express, celebrate and complains about man’s relationship with God. This isn't shrink-wrapped easy believism. This ancient literature isn't trying to convince you of God’s existence or lay a religious guilt trip on you so you'll behave yourself. These are poems that portray conflict between what man thinks about God and what man thinks God does. There is a section of these poems grouped together that are called “lamentations.” These poems question whether God is even there. And if maybe he is, does he care about what is going on in our lives.

This is where most people live. This is what most people think when they think about God. But not very many people admit it and none are more honest than the writers of these poems called Psalms. Most people you meet are either religious or unreligious, and my assertion is not very many people in your life are really honest about what they think about God.

I think God forces you into situations where you’re confronted with this fact. This is what I write about in post 21 in our book blogging project. Let me know if any of this resonates with you.

Where are my Angels? -Post 21

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Book Review: How to be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint

Book title: How to be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint
Author: Peter Kreeft
San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2016
Number of pages: 170

Real People Being Holy in the Real World

From the way the title reads, you’d think someone has descended from a mountain top, some wise and holy guru, to condescend to tell us lowland commoners how to live to be like him and/or Mother Theresa.

But that isn’t the case according to author Peter Kreeft: “This book is not a great chef serving up a gourmet dinner; it is one desperately poor bum telling another where there’s free food.”

I love this quote. It definitely sets the tone for the book. Kreeft writes about the relationship between God and flawed man without sounding religious or beating up the reader (me/you) with guilt. I read this felt I could actually be holy. Holy is in reach.

Kreeft didn’t come holiness from the familiar, Calvinistic angle where you just need to believe all the right stuff. In so many books I read in my camp of evangelicals, they peddle a theology of holiness that believing all the correct dogma and creeds rather than doing good deeds. That, of course, makes me argumentative and leaves me feeling frustrated which isn’t a very holy feeling. I always walk away wondering how rock star preachers portray themselves as heroically holier than everybody else making people feel like “if only I was like him… but I’m not… oh well, I guess I’ll never measure up.” Their brand of holiness is somehow wrapped up in the size of their platform and giant warehouse church. You just know that you, a commoner, alas, will never be like them.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

But here’s what Kreeft is saying: holiness for the common man. That’s the topic this book explores. If you want it, you can have. Because you want it, it’s attainable with God’s help. God wants to help and will help as often as you reach for help. Every saint that’s attained sainthood started where you and I are right now in this moment when you’re reading this.

Kreeft covers the topic by asking this overarching question: “Which is more important, justification or sanctification (in terms of Christian theology)? Being saved or being saintly?”

Here’s one of the conclusions he comes to (I love this paragraph):
“Faith, which justifies us, is like a root. Hope, which expands us, is like a shoot. Love, which perfects us, is like a shoot. Which of these three equally necessary parts of the growing plant of our spiritual life is more important? Read 1 Corinthians 13 for the answer. The whole point of the root and the shoot is the fruit. The rest of the plant is for the fruit. The fruit is not an afterthought, an extra, an accident. Sanctification is to justification what babies are to sex.”
Life isn’t to be lived just so we get to go to heaven. Life is to be lived to do stuff for God the way Jesus did. The Holy Spirit stands ready to help us do this. We just need to get in on it. Get in line. Step up to the plate and be willing to take a swing.

The book is broken into short chapters designed to give you something to think about as you’re getting your day going. There’s a chapter called “God as your Guru.” That’s because nobody ever became holy on his own, you need a coach. Why not God?

There are a bunch of chapters with one word titles: Methods; Unselfconsciousness; Peace; Failures; Suffering; Grace; Detachment; Creation; Gratitude.

Some of the other chapters are as descriptive but have a few more words in their titles. Love and Sex; The Future; Little Things; Spiritual Warfare; Holiness is Easy. Not in this order. But you can see by this list that this is a book you want to read because you need to get some of these things up and running.

Oh, no? Is that because I didn’t mention this title: “Objection: I can’t be a Saint”? This chapter will also help: ‘When to find God: “The Sacrament of the of the Present Moment”. This was probably the most practical and thought provoking chapter I read. I didn’t list them in order because you really don’t have to read the chapters in order for this to work. Don’t tell Kreeft I said that. But once you spend the money on the book, it’s yours. Go crazy.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Listing thanks - naming angels

A friend I have incredible respect for told me that on nights he can't sleep, he's made a practice of thinking about all of the things he's thankful for. I think when I first heard this, I had a bad attitude making this advice sound kind of trite. But the more I thought about it, the more I understood this to be the most profound advice I'd ever been given.

That's the reason we're working on this book-blogging project. When I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself, I start thinking of the things I'm thankful for. I name the angels God's sent into my life. We write about two in this post:

Monday, October 09, 2017

Longevity: Nothing that lasts happens overnight

Last week I ran my seventh marathon. Training for marathons has been one of the best disciplines ever introduced into my life. Long runs, gradually getting longer week by week, become a part of my weekly routine. I prepare during the week for those longer treks by downloading Bible teaching onto my phone so I can really listen to and think through chunks of the Bible. During the last two marathon training seasons, I listened to teaching through the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. I love the story of David. Especially David on the run from Saul. If you don’t know the story, it’s one of the best biographies in the Bible. God uses these years, these ten years, to school David and prepare him to be king of Israel; Israel’s greatest king.

Training for marathon over the past decade has shown me that nothing good happens instantly, at least nothing of substance, will last, or make a difference.

In the next installment of our book blogging project we come to the end of our rope. Looking back ten years later, we’re so grateful for what we’ve come through. But when we were in the middle of it, we never thought our family or our marriage would come through intact. Read more here.

Hearing God's Call

“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.” —Romans 1:13 NIV

Matt Anderson was one of those guys in school that carried himself with confidence. His father had a successful law practice and became a judge. During the time I knew Matt in school, his dad was always known as Judge Anderson. The Andersons raised their son to be confident, proud of the family name, and represent their name well in the community. Matt was always a good kid. He was humble, tall, and handsome; always picked to be captain of the basketball team. He was a first string quarterback. He was a natural leader. Doors opened for Matt, and he confidently walked through them. When Matt was given a job to do, he did it well. People wanted to be around Matt which always resulted in more opportunity. He was teachable; a quick learner. He learned lessons early in life that most what many of us take a lifetime to learn. It was the reputation of his father that opened doors. His own ability to learn quickly and to do a job well that gave him the confidence that the opportunities would keep coming

Confidence in calling

Paul was confident in his calling. Paul knew that what God did in the past He would continue to do in the future. He knew that wherever he went, because he was specifically chosen by God, there would be a harvest of souls. In the Book of Acts, Jesus specifically, told Paul that he would be a witness to Him to the Gentiles. Paul planned and prepared every task in his life around this.

Paul’s call was confirmed by Jesus to Ananias when He said, “he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.”

God confirms the call in your heart, and he also confirms it in the hearts and minds of those who know you. This is something you can have confidence in.

If you’re a missionary, you know it; you’re called. People don’t make themselves a missionary, God does.

Calling Defined

While it has become very popular in the past couple of decades to say “if you are a Christian, you are a missionary,” it’s important to make this very important distinction: missionaries are all Christians, but not all Christians are missionaries. Being a missionary is a calling.

There are two callings Christians have on their lives. The first one is a general call. The second is a specific call.

General Call

All Christians are called to be a witness for Jesus. Each and everyone of us has a story of how we came to Christ. We are called to share that story - our testimony - of how Jesus drew us into relationship with Himself and the impact that has had on our lives. The story of our calling to Christ will impact the lives of others. We’re called to share that good news. When we tell our story (whether we see it immediately or not) the Holy Spirit stimulates the hearts of our listeners. That is our privilege, duty, and calling as a Christian.

Specific Call

The specific call of a Christian begins to emerge when the Holy Spirit guides someone to a specific location, ministry, or group of people. You’ll hear someone that has a specific call say things like, “I think I’m supposed to minister to men in prison,” or “I’m praying about leaving the country I live in to plant a church among the Masai people in Kenya.” In these two cases, the former is a call to a ministry and the latter a call to missions.

This is the kind of calling Paul had. Rome is strategic. That’s what Paul is thinking in Romans 1:13 where we began. Paul hopes to use Rome as a launching off point for future missions into unreached parts of Europe. This letter he writes to believers in Rome is theologically heavy because he wants his readers to feel the full weight of the power of the Gospel and the role of believers in the worldwide mission of God.

Paul knows wherever he plants his flag, God moves.

You start to recognize your own specific call within your interests and giftings. If you’re reading this and don’t think God is specifically calling you to ministry or missions, that’s perfectly fine. Specific calling is where the creativity of God (the Caller) and uniqueness of the one called intersect. This is where the call gets exciting. This is where God loves to work and bear fruit.

Connection to the Caller

Os Guinness writes in his book The Call, “There can be no calling without a Caller.” This is important: stay connected to the Caller. Paul says, “Pray without ceasing.” I’m not asking if you are a “Christian” or if you have a “personal relationship” with Jesus. You can check both of these boxes and not be fully engaged with the Caller. You can’t recognize your own calling with a connection to the Caller.

So what does it mean to be specifically called as a missionary? How can you know. Here are some ways:

»striking, unmistakable call

This happens, but only in a minority of cases. God uses a dream or a vision to call a missionary. This isn’t something you hear about often, but it happens occasionally and there is a biblical precedence for it. The Apostle Paul’s call fits into this category. Jesus spoke to Paul in an audible voice and even inflicted Paul with temporary blindness. To confirm it further, Jesus spoke to Ananias in a vision.

In the Middle East where Islam dominates all areas of culture, stories like this are being told by missionaries. Anecdotal incidents of Jesus appearing in dreams of Muslim people are opening their hearts to greater curiosity about who Jesus is as well as the missionaries he sends. Don Richardson also writes about these kinds of events in his books Eternity in their Hearts and Lords of the Earth.

I love the story of the calling of Patrick, the missionary apostle to Ireland, which, as far as Europe was concerned, was the “uttermost parts” of the earth. Patrick was the child of Christian parents in Roman Britain around the year 389. When he was twelve years old, Patrick was carried off to Ireland as a slave. The experience had the opposite effect you might expect. His faith was transformed and he fell in love with the Irish people he lived among. But when he was a young man, he escaped captivity and fled to France where he served as a monk. Later, he was reunited with his family in England.

His heart did not let him rest at home, however. “In a dream,” J. Herbert Kane writes in his book A Concise History of the Christian World Mission, “he heard voices calling him: ‘We beseech thee, holy youth, to come and walk again amongst us as before.’”

In spite of being in danger from pagan priests, armed soldiers, and bandits, Patrick baptized thousands of converts. Patrick is definitely a giant among missionary heroes.

 »An increasing conviction

There are times when God gives you a conviction that only grows. This gives an assurance about what’s unfolding in your life. Your desire to reach or work among a particular people deepens. This is how missionary calling worked in my life. As a young man, I never dreamed I’d be a missionary. But I started to hear about a ministry to soldiers in South Sudan that trained chaplains. Being an ex-marine, I was intrigued. As I learned about the civil war in South Sudan, my heart was broken and I began to pray. Then as God opened doors, I began to travel to that region of the world and watch the Lord begin to bear fruit through ministry I was involved in. As relationships began to develop with missionaries in South Sudan, it began to make sense that this was a fit and God was in this. Men I looked to as leaders sensed God at work, too. Finally, my wife and family sensed that this was a direction we were called to pursue. This process took a little over three years, but everyone involved believed and affirmed that this was God’s call on our lives for a season. To not move forward would have been disobedience to God’s call.

»Stimulating the call

Stimulate the call. Begin to pray with your whole heart and write down what you think the Holy Spirit is showing you. Read missionary biographies and talk to the pastors at your church. Go on a “vision trip”. Go to a missions conference. Find out which churches in your city are most missions minded. Find out what they’re doing and why.

When you sense the call, don’t ignore it. Don’t try to distract yourself with frivolous pursuits in an attempt to shake free of God’s call. You’ll make yourself miserable. It would be healthy for you to read the book of Jonah.

Underwhelming minority but still called

Just because you can’t get most of the Christians in your life on board with what God has called you too doesn’t mean you’re not called. If you only have one other person confirming your call, you’re still called. If you seem to be called to something unfashionable, unsafe, or difficult, that doesn’t mean you’re not called. Paul’s missionary journey lead to prison, isolation, and abandonment from his friends. Yet some of his most insightful epistles came from his time in prison. You have no idea what kind of fruit God is going to bring from your life as you obey Him, even if it seems like you’re all alone. These are the times you’ll refer back to in the journal you’re keeping of God’s original stirrings in your life. You’re not keeping a journal? You need to start! Make sure you’re writing this stuff down. This is the time in your life God is using to build your faith and confirm His call on your life.

This article appeared originally on the Shepherd's Staff Mission Facilitators blog.