Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pedigrees: Mutt or Pure Bread

This past year my family adopted a dog from an animal rescue. Well, actually, Harper adopted a dog from a rescue. She once had a fear of dogs, and by her own initiative, began a dog and cat sitting business to get over her fear, and raise funds to buy her own dog. This project resulted in the arrival of Scout (there was a previous adoption that ended with the dog biting our contractor). Scout is a black lab . . spaniel . . .boarder collie . . something mix. Basically, she looks like a black lab that someone shrunk to ½ size and put a fluffy tale on. She is a wonderful dog and we have had a great experience with her. She’s not a pure bread dog, but who cares, she does the job of loving my kids, obeying commands most of the time, and functioning as my alarm clock.

Now, there are some people who are really into pure bread dogs with good pedigrees. I get that. Based upon the breed, you can predict behavior, and size with pretty good accuracy. With mutts there is no telling what size or personality they might have. All you can do is wait, see, and experience. Not good for those who like predictability.

I have come to know, more or less admit, that I like pedigrees and pure breads in my Christians as well, especially other pastors. I like to know what school they went to, what books they read, who their favorite authors are, what preachers they listen to, and so on. Any possible mutant strand or lack of good breeding, and I have the tendency to deem you less than qualified for leadership, possibly even for salvation if I’m really being honest (that’s a joke). But I do like pedigrees. Paul liked pedigrees. He considered himself pure bread. But he realized that being pure bread was of little value because if his pedigree didn’t include Jesus his chances of winning Best of Show were zilch, and all his friends cared about were winning Best of Show.

So, what does this mean? Sure, you can make some predictions about a person’s spiritual pedigree, but that isn’t able to tell you everything, and it doesn’t determine if they will be a good leader or not.

I’m working on being less judgmental, and more open to people’s spiritual pedigree. I’m trying to wait, see, and experience people, rather than make predictions.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jiffy Pop Church

“Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”
D. Bonhoeffer, Life Together

This is a true statement. I am in the midst of being disillusioned with people and myself. And at the same time, the Christian culture pumps and promotes easy-bake discipleship (If you know me, this is my new phrase and possible title for my book that I have yet to write, but the title sounds good).

I am bombarded by brochures for books and conference that have the same speakers saying the same things over and over again. They spend so much time speaking at conferences when do they actually do ministry? They may have had a “win” in ministry and now they’re selling their model or recipe for ministry. Some of us buy it and then try it out only to find it doesn’t work in our community. Did we miss a step? Did we forget an ingredient? Could it be me?

I’m also bombarded with testimonies of when a church just added small groups the church exploded and there was a big love-fest. It doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes it flops.

I would love a session at a conference where the speaker spoke about “When Community Sucks, and What you thought was right isn’t”. Don’t get me wrong. I am all about community and the church. I love the church and what it is suppose to be. What I am disillusioned by is what it currently is. Yes, I have read Rob Bell, and he too easily discards the local church, and too easily promotes the Mars Hill effect. I love what Rob is doing for his faith community, but its not to be replicated or licensed as a franchise as an excuse for people to leave their current faith community. If one is called to move on it must be done prayerfully and with great discernment and pain, not with the ease of flipping a switch or changing an outfit.

So as painful as disillusionment is, it’s good. It helps to clarify the reality of a situation. It shoves you into the light of truth. It paves the way for repentance. “Not my will, but let Yours be done.”

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Journey Continues

Well . .the summer of study has not gone exactly as planned, and neither have the lessons I was planning to learn. God has something else in mind. Car repairs, self-examination, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness, more self-examination, travel, disappointment, frustration, still more self-examination, and it goes on and on. All in all, God has not changed, I have, but not God.

To quote Jules in Pulp Fiction,

The truth is, YOU'RE the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd.

While the movie itself is not one that I would naturally gravitate towards, this final scene is classic, and it exemplifies how I feel my last year has been, and how in spite of my actions and past sins I am trying, with the help of the Holy Ghost, to move forward.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Prepare for the Obamanation!

It is reported that Barack Obama will be launching a project called the Joshua Generation to encourage young Christians to participate in the political process as ascribed to by Barack himself.

What political figure has ever had the "audacity" (come on . . it was too easy) to use a Biblical patriarch as the inspiration for a Presidential campaign?

I'm not sure how I feel about this, but I do find it all fascinating.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Strange Times. . .End Times?

Barack Obama wins the Democratic nomination, the Cubs have won 9 straight, and an unidentified species of fish is found in a lake in Utah . . . .not bad things in themselves, but . . .when looked at as a whole. . . hmmmmmm?

Now, major catastrophes experienced by Burma and China are no laughing matter,and point to the reality that we live in a fallen world. Its not those things that really peak my interest and curiosity. Its the things that have the appearance of being good that scare me.

Am I a conspiracy theorist? Yes. I still believe in Big Foot, or as I like to call him, Sasquatch. I believe the deaths of JFK and Marylin Monroe are intertwined. And there is no humanly possible way a show like The View should be on t.v. without some agreement made in the bowls of hell.

How then shall we live? As if today could be the last, and as if there will be a thousand tomorrows. Its not for us to know times and epochs, but to repent in light of knowing what we know today.

Go Cubs!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Trinity and Community

Does the reality of the Trinity affect the way you follow Jesus? Does it affect your worship? Is it something you merely observe or experience and participate in? If God lives within community how does it affect the reality that we live within community?

I'm not sure either . . . . but I want to find out.

This summer I'm making the focus of my study the impact the reality of the Trinity has on how we worship, love, and live with each other.

Join me on my quest. If you have questions log them in and I'll try to respond as I come across what may appear to be an answer.

I have begun reading Participating in God, A pastoral doctrine of the Trinity. This has been the book most suggested to me by scholars whom I trust. Don't expect a book review this Friday, but I will be posting thoughts along the way and letting you know where I am in my reading of this book and others.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Time to re-emagine

I have not posted anything of significant importance in two weeks, therefore I need to recalibrate the role this blog plays in my life.

If you have suggestions, I'm all for it.

By the way, I'm still reading Peterson, and enjoying it, while at the same time, I'm reading a couple of other books at the same time. What does that say about me?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Book Review # 11.1 - Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson

When reviewing books and choosing books to read within a week, one should conider the author and not the number of pages. While most books in the two to two hundred and fifty range are typically quick reads, not so with Eugene Peterson. This is not because Peterson is hard to read. It's because it's dense. Each page has a paragraph or phrase that stops me in my tracks that requires some thought. Granted, Peterson often answers my quandries later, but in the momement I can't help but sit and think about what I have just read, and the possible implications of it. Instead of reading, I find that I am in a dialogue with Peterson, something that he encourages in this book.

Peteson is encouraging the mastication of scripture . . . I like that phrase. It moves beyond the big-gulp approach to scripture, and brings to mind a bovine like chewing of the word, long periods of just chewing until it has become more easily digested.

The quote under FOR REFLECTION is one of my favorites this year. As I continue to read this book I will update you on my findings and reflections. Needless to say, this is book worth reading, and I believe I have found a new friend in Peterson.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Book Review Update

I'm letting you know now that my book review will be posted next Friday, as I am trying to digest my current book, Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson. I can say this, after reading several chapters, its worth reading. More details to follow.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Eating Crow

Eating crow (archaically, eating boiled crow) is an English idiom meaning humiliation by admitting wrongness or having been proven wrong after taking a strong position.

Crow is a staple in my diet. I am constantly nibbling on it through out the day. I find myself taking strong stances on issues only to retreat. I can't help but have the scene from Monty Python's Holy Grail where they charge the rabbit, only to run and scream " Run away, Run away . . .right . .that bunny is dynamite!"

While I am still prone to take strong stances in the face of truth, I am more willing to retreat if need be. I used to take a stance and defend at all costs. Now I find myself a little more willing to say " Yep . . I blew it."

Crow doesn't taste too bad.

Lord, help me to be less prideful. Help me to be less concerned about self preservation, and more about reconciliation. Thank you for helping me to be different, and more loving. Thanks for being patient with me.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Does God Tolerate Us?


Main Entry: tol·er·ate
Pronunciation: \ˈtä-lə-ˌrāt\
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): tol·er·at·ed; tol·er·at·ing
Etymology: Latin toleratus, past participle of tolerare to endure, put up with; akin to Old English tholian to bear, Latin tollere to lift up, latus carried (suppletive past participle of ferre), Greek tlēnai to bear
Date: 1524
1: to endure or resist the action of (as a drug or food) without serious side effects or discomfort : exhibit physiological tolerance for
2 a: to allow to be or to be done without prohibition, hindrance, or contradiction b: to put up with

I'm wrestling with the idea that God tolerates us. Tolerance is such a politically charged word. There is a call for the tolerance of all people, life styles, and expressions of self, yet I don't see tolerance as defined by Webster a part of God's character. I don't see God "putting up with" us. I do see God loving us in ways that demonstrates patience and forbearance.

Tolerance in my mind is putting up with someone with no hope that person is going to change, hopeless resignation if you will. Love seems to expect all things, and hopes for all things; transformation. Isn't this what God hopes for us? Who wants to be tolerated? I don't.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Book Review #10: Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer is an American classic preacher, known for his preaching and writing. Knowledge of the Holy and the Pursuit of God are among two of his best known.

I enjoy Tozer because he picks up where Ryle leaves off; a deep concern for the church and the influence of culture on its ability to be salt and light. Tozer was not required reading in seminary, but referenced many times, much like authors do today of his work. Tozer is one of the few classic pastors whom you are still able to get recordings of his preaching.

Knowledge of the Holy is short book, and can be read devotionally as each short chapter opens with a prayer and occasionally a quote, and ends with a verse or two from a hymn. He writes like he preaches; directly with memorable phrases sprinkled in.

The doctrine of the Trinity is truth for the heart.

Having recently discussed God's justice in Sunday school, I was particularly interested in his thoughts on this, and in typical Tozer form, he emphasizes that God does not act justly, but in being just God is being God.

Justice, when used of God, is a name we give to the way God is, nothing more; and when God acts justly He is not doing so to conform to an independent criterion, but simply acting like Himself in a given situation.

This quote emphasizes that God is never at cross purposes with himself, and that his character works in harmony with itself, unlike ours. This is a theme that follows the reader through out the book.

Tozer is also willing to leave the reader uncomfortable in his understanding of God's character.

The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions. It hushes their fears and allows them to practice all pleasant forms of iniquity while death draws every day nearer . . . we dare not so trifle with our eternal future.

You'll find the chapters filled with scriptural references, peppered in appropriately. Although this books is a series of reflections on God's character, and Tozer does refer to scriptural truths, it reads devotionally. I would suggest this book to be read in that spirit.

Tozer is a classic that serious Christ followers should at least nosh on from time to time.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

American Pastor !

With Billy Grahm's health fading, and the resignation of three teaching pastors at Willow Creek I think its time we join the band wagon of culture and search for who might be America's next pastor. My panel would be Rev. Melissa Scott, Rev. Tony Evans, and the Rev. Andrew Purves .

Contestants would give 3 minute "sermonettes" on a passage of scripture or element of theology chosen at random ( I got this idea from Dr. Larson). The panel would then give their critique and either pass them on to the next round or "turn them over to Satan".

Once the contestants are narrowed down to 12 ( like the symbolism) they would then have to give thematic sermons, such as: Revival, Healing, Evangelistic, Missional, ect. The winner would be determined by calling in, and the grand prize would be determined to be America's Next Pastor; teaching at Willow Creek for the next three years.

How do we get this started?

( I pray you understand that this is just a cheeky way of poking fun at our culture as Americans. I did not chose the pannel of pastors to make fun of them or to endorse them. I randomly chose three pastors whom I thought had different approaches to faith. If you want to know whom I would find the most commonality with, it would be Andrew Purves. I am also not criticizing Willow Creek or its ministries as they have done great work for the Kingdom. It just so happens they're in Chicago and are probably searching for pastors, and are commonly known within the US.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

World of the Satisfy'n Place

This is a bar in Cincincati, where I grew up. Its also the title to an album by a guy I went to High School with, Dave Wolfenberger. We didn't go to the same school, but we were in Young Life together. I love the fact that a place with this name exists.

Check out Dave's stuff.

Sample Bury Me at Ivesdale and Paul

If you're from Cincy, you'll love his stuff because he refrences alot of land marks.

If you're not, you'll like him because his lyrics and music are catchy and well thought out.


Friday, April 4, 2008

Book Review # 9: Jesus Mean and Wild by Mark Galli

I have to admit, when Joline is gone, I watch things that I normally don't get the chance to . .say . . Planet of the Apes. . thus the late entry.

Galli's book has been a refreshing read in light of my previous posts. Refreshing because it was a book about Jesus, and because it challenged my thoughts and confirmed by inclinations about the person of Jesus. I use the word person because we are always talking about the humanity and Deity of Jesus, but what of the person of Jesus?

This is where Galli takes us, to the person of Jesus, who is fully God and fully human. In both his humanity and deity Jesus demonstrates being untamable and fully loving in the most frustrating of ways. Galli pushes at our idolatry, re-creating Jesus in our own image . .well not our image. . the image we desire. In the same way Bonhoeffer challenged our desire for cheap grace, Galli challenges our desire for a nice God, not a loving God, for a loving God is willing to discipline, yeah even shame if necessary.

It was Galli's chapter titled 'Harsh Tutors of Love' that challenged me the most in its discussion of Jesus using shame and fear as ways to lovingly confront our sin. While I liked this chapter, I am still wrestling with it, but isn't that what a good book does, challenge us?

This book does not set out to make Jesus more masculine, but it does set out to ask the question "How does Jesus Love us?", and we find out that Jesus doesn't quite love us in the same way Mr. Rogers does. Sure, he might like us just the way we are, but he isn't concerned about us staying the same. He demands that we be different. He place the responsibility on the reader to love as Christ loved, but takes the responsibility of the response away from us ( knowing we can create enemies if we love like Jesus).

There are so many books I wish our whole congregation could read, and this would be one of them. Galli doesn't spend a lot of time mixing words. He gets to the point and moves on. His chapters are well thought out, and concise. His writing is conversational. I found it easy to read, but not remedial.

It would be a good book for a small group to use as a resource, but only after the group has been together for a while.

If you are bored with your faith and think you know the Jesus of the Bible, this would be a good book to get your interest in the person of Jesus refueled.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


OK, so my 39th birthday is next month . .May 22nd, in case you were asking. . .and I'm realizing that 40 is just around the corner. 30 wasn't bad. I felt like I was moving towards something. . .significant. Now I'm feeling like I am being hurled forward towards something . . . less significant.

I'm not a big celebrator of birthdays. The last couple of years has been rewarded with a pat on the back, and a nice card from my wife and kids. I'm not expecting anything different this year, and don't desire it either, yet I am feeling the need to move back towards something significant.

Albeit, age is not the factor, only a sign post, or indicator of elapsed time, and turning 40 seems less of a big deal, but I don't want it to pass by like any other year either.

So, pray with and for me that 39 will be a year of renewal, revelation, and significance for me and Team Atkins.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Book Review #9: Jesus, Mean and Wild (Update)

It with a little regret that I must postpone my review of this book till Friday, and pick up the ball again next week. I have been doing some research on different discipleship models within churches. Thanks for your grace.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008



In your faith community, do you feel you are part of maintaining an institution or mobilizing a movement?

This is the question I have been grappling with recently. Maintaining is not bad, but it doesn’t speak to growth. It says “We’re fine just the way we are.” Being part of a movement feels more like “This is where we are, but we could be better, and we’re willing to fail in trying.”

I’m at a point in life where I am sick of maintaining, and want to feel like I am part of a movement again. This is what drew me to ministry. This, in part, is what drew me to Christ.

Now, this not to say I have this figured out and aced in other areas of my life. I am totally into maintaining other areas of my life where there should be movement, but I can’t imagine movement in my life unless there is movement in my faith and faith community.

Lord Jesus Christ, by your Holy Spirit propel me to take greater challenges in my faith, family, and community. Help me to be obedient to the nudges of your spirit. Consume me through your word and prayer. Deliver me from my fear. Give me boldness in the face of temptation. Help me to move.

Friday, March 21, 2008

I know Spring is around the corner.

Once again, its snowing out. We're expecting 6 to 9 inches, and all I can think about is my garden and how it will look like this again someday.

Book Review # 8 - A New Earth by Eckart Tolle

Needless to say, its been a busy week. Having St. Patricks day and Easter, not to mention the start of March Madness, falling in the same week . . enough of the excuses. As a preacher once said, no guff or twaddle today.

Eckart Tolle's book A New Earth, Awakening To Your Life's Purpose is the latest in a string of self help books with a spiritual bend. To be honest, Tolle sounds alot like L.Ron Hubbard in his attempt to synchronize religions and various sciences (especially psychology), using their common themes and then aligning them under the banner of his own vocabulary. What Hubbard would call our collective negative feelings as Thetan, Tolle calls it our pain-body, feeding on negative experiences both in the present and past. Tolle is quick to use words such as evolve and use it as as spiritual term, or reference the arrival of a new kind of kingdom and equate that to a higher level of consciousness.

In short, Tolle says that we must evolve or die. If we do not evolve to a higher state of consciousness, then we as a race will die. Tolle points to religious prophets and some scientist who have risen to this state of evolved consciousness (enlightenment . .. very creative), in which of course, Tolle counts him self among.

Tolle agrees that all humanity has an inherited dysfunction, some call it sin, others call it suffering, but what ever you call it, it is the result of not being "self aware". Tolle is sounding like a broken record at this point, and I keep waiting for the new thing he has to say . . .

Tolle does use more scripture than other self proclaimed spiritual leaders, but he takes the passages out of context and changes the meaning of words to fit his paradigm. He correctly defines sin, and then suggests that sin is to live unskillfully or blindly. Not that I disagree, but he equates it with the Buddhist way of avoiding pain. He also references living with the peace that surpasses all understanding, but says that you can only achieve that peace if you understand the ego.. Summarily, the Sermon on the Mount is a teaching or vehicle to diminish the pain-body.

So what is the new earth? Hold onto your hats . . . .Its an earth that is changed by people who have evolved and achieved enlightenment, or awakened to your purpose. Your life's purpose is to live in the now, and not for tomorrow. If you are awake to your present purpose, you can change the world now. If you look for your purpose in the future, you will miss the present. Don't you feel better?

Tolle is a man who is seeking. For that I give him props, but like most self proclaimed spiritual guides, he's inward focused. His teaching don't come anywhere close to the authority and weight of Christ.

As a book, I think he could have said what he needed to say in 1/2 the time. I'm shocked that Oprah chose such a book. My sense is that a staffer read it and brought it as an idea. Have we seen Tolle on Oprah? If this was such big stuff, then I would have thought every Tuesday would be Eckart day, but maybe she learned her lesson with Dr. Phil.

Final thought . .nothing new under the sun. Tolle's book is a "best of" remix of world religions and science, with a synchronized drum beat behind it.

" But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves . . . . having a form of godliness but denying its power. . . For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

The Apostle Paul - 2 Timothy

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patricks Day!

If you are interested in some St. Patrick history click on link. You'll find it fascinating.

Check out our family blog to see what we did to celebrate a 1/4 of my tradition.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Making Everything Spiritual

I freely admit I had a man-crush on Rob Bell when I first saw his Nooma videos and read Velvet Elvis. I also continually thought "Who is this punk? What does he have to say? And, man, I have got to get some new clothes."

Rob has been doing a tour called "Everything is Spiritual". Something I resonate with. At the same time, I try making everything spiritual.

Case in point. My wife and I are probably going to sell one of our cars, mine of course, and so I have been walking to work. No big deal, about 1 1/2 miles, roughly 25 to 30 minute walk. On the way into work, I thought this walk can help me better understand the needs of the poor and how women in Africa have to walk greater distances every day to get water. At this point, I stopped in my tracks, and asked myself "George, why are you trying to spiritualize this? What are you trying to do?"

The answer came to me just as fast as the question. "You want people to think of you more highly than they should, and you want to have a good answer if people ask. Its all about image."

Now, what did I like about walking? I had some good alone time. I saw houses and places in a way I'm not able to going 35mph. I said 'Hi' to people, and they said 'Hi" back. I didn't have to spiritualize it because it all ready was.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Review # 7: The Third Jesus by Deepak Chopra

I couldn't wait any longer and simply had to finish the book because it was, well, terrible. It is not well written, poorly developed, and its been done before and actually better by Thich Nhat Hanh (Living Buddha, Living Christ).

Chopra makes wide sweeping generalizations on so many fronts its as if he sat down and starting writ ting from personal memory (an issue I have with my own fellow Christians when they say " I think it says somewhere in the Bible . . . .).

There is no good documentation or evidence provided to support his claims unless they support his views, and even then he stands on shaky ground. He, like other authors trying to discover something new about Jesus, tosses out the cloak of contradiction, and yet is either unable or unwilling to show any.

Chopra sights Gnostic writing and non-canonical books as if they are widely accepted. He quotes Jesus and then re-interprets the quotes through his own lens and definitions, a critique he gives the Gospel writers. He disregards orthodox Christianity and moves to secondary sources because he then doesn't have to deal with Jesus. His understanding of Jewish literature is regretfully poor for an author of his notoriety ( I didn't want to say scholarship, because I didn't see any).

What does this book have to offer? If as a student of Jesus, you want to know where society gets its ideas about Jesus, then read this book. Chopra is wide read, and is a proponent of religious and social harmony, albeit at the expense of truth. If you are not a student of Jesus, then I wouldn't use this as a source to find Jesus, because you won't get the authentic Jesus of the Bible. I would encourage you to read the Bible yourself. I do the same with all religions. I don't read Christian critiques of other religions, I read what the religion and its followers have to say about themselves. I encourage the same here.

Don't waste your time or PayPal on this one. The cover is interesting, and it goes down hill from there.

If you're re-engaging your Christian faith or simply curious let me suggest you read the Gospels, but as companions read The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight, or Basic Christianity by John Stott.

Next week I will be reviewing a New Earth . . . I know, but Oprah has got people buzzing about it, so I though I'd see what its about.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


The book I'm reading this week is The Third Jesus by Deepak Chopra simply because this is the time of the year when people release books and write articles about Jesus. This book is no exception to the endless attempts to give you the 'real' Jesus. While some of his statements are acurate about the church and its short comings, he's making broad sweeping comments without much substance. It drives me crazy to read this stuff, and yet this is where most people look to discover Jesus, not the Bible.

So, hold onto your hats, its going to be a bumpy ride. Don't get too excited about Time and Newsweek publishing cover stories about Jesus, because they'll probably quote Chopra and not the Gospels. Then again, how much have you heard about the Jesus Seminar lately? And that is my point.

Monday, March 10, 2008


I underestimate people's need to forgive and be forgiven, actually hearing the words "You are forgiven." I taught Sunday school and lead small group yesterday on the Kingdom principle of forgiveness and our power to forgive sins, not atone for them, but forgive, as exhorted by Jesus in John 20. People really seemed to wrestle with our call to forgive and it was obvious that some needed to hear that they are forgiven. It's important to say these words because it is a major part of our ministry of reconciliation. Do you need to forgive? Do you need to hear the words?
Do you need to forgive? Do you need to hear the words?

You are forgiven. Now, in your freedom, go and set others free.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
Luke 4:18-19

Friday, March 7, 2008

Book(let) Review # 6: A Call to Prayer by J.C. Ryle

I said I would give a book review, but I didn't say how long the book was =:) This was a busy week, so I didn't have nearly the reading time I had planned or expected. Over the last two days, I went back to my shelf of books that I re-read to get my energy and passion refueled.

J.C. Ryle is one of those authors who does it for me. In 1880 Ryle was named the first Bishop of the newly constituted diocese of Liverpool. Throughout his ministry he became known and beloved as a defender of the evangelical reformed faith as expressed in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, of the Church of England.

His book Holiness is a must read. His writing style is direct and lovingly confrontational. His illustrations are based in human interaction, making them relevant regardless of the era in which they were written.

A Call to Prayer is typical Ryle. He starts off this books with " Do you pray?" and then for the rest of book outlining the necessity of prayer and the affects if it is lacking. Ryle also starts off by insisting that prayer is needful to salvation. " But that a man can have salvation without asking for it, I cannot see in the Bible."

Ryle continues to outline the marks of a true disciple by their willingness to pray. " I don not deny that a man may pray without heart and without sincerity. I do not for a moment pretend to say that the mere fact of a person's praying proves ever thing about his soul. As in every other part of religion, so also in this, there may be deception and hypocrisy. But I do say this, that not praying in a clear proof that a man is not yet a true Christian."

On of my favorite quotes is " Can we really believe that people are praying against sin night and day, when we see them plunging into it?"

Ryle is not for the faint of heart, and he will get you angry at times, but for all the right reasons. He will spur you on to know Christ. I love having a preacher with a thick accent preach God's word with power. This is the closest I get some times, imagining Ryle leaning over the top of the pulpit, pouring God's word over his people with a fire that is shut up in his bones.

A Call To Prayer is a good introduction to Ryle.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Priesthood of All Believers

Wasn't it great when we were kids and playing army (not very p.c. these days) and you were shot, that all you had to do was wait until a buddy tagged you, or you simply said "You missed me," and you got up and started playing again.

No one wants to feel left out of the game. Regardless of our talent or skills, we'd rather be in the game than watching. We'd rather take the chance and screw up than sitting on the sidelines and cheer. Yet, when it comes to the Christian faith, we do the opposite.

Instead of pursuing a dynamic call to be part of God's redemptive plan, we sit in the pew and cheer for those who appear to be living the call; never believing we have the same call.

One of my favorite lines in a movie is from Keeping the Faith, " We're (clergy) paid to live the kind of spiritual lives our people can't live for themselves." I love it because I hate the truth of it. I feel the pressure of it, and that is why I am compelled, yeah, propelled to change it.

We have all been called into the game.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Book Review # 5: The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God's Call to Justice

Mark Laberton, one of PCUSA's best thinkers, has written a book that I think is an excellent bridge between the evangelical world of spiritual transformation and the liberal world of social transformation ( forgive the broad sweeping stereotypical descriptions).

Mark gets right to the heart of the matter; while we spend time and resources discussing and debating worship styles, people are being lost, both spiritually and physically. In a culture that looks for comfortable worship, this search has lead us away from God's call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked; often not comfortable at all.

Laberton simply believes that how we live, particularly in relation to the poor, is our greatest act of worship; not whether or not we sing hymns or praise songs. As Christians, we need to wake up to the culture we live in and be salt and light to that world through the good works we do, which in return will cause the community to give praise to God.

The book is well written,with plenty of stories and personal experience. Mark fills the book with wonderful quotes; " If we don't live truth, reflect our praise or enact our confessions, our faith can't possibly change us."

The one critique is that I think Laberton could have said the same thing in fewer words and stories.

Like many books, looking to hook into the small group craze, there are questions for reflection for each chapter at the end of the book. This would be a great book for churches trying to discover their place in service. I think it has plenty to offer, regardless of your theological stance.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Do this in Remembrance of Me

I attend a church where we use very shiny cups and plates for communion. Recently (not too recent, probably a year ago) I noticed the rapper Li'l John carrying a shiny cup like the one my church uses for communion, except his cup was filled with the real thing (not grape juice), and serves a different purpose.

For whatever reason, I got to thinking about communion, and started asking the question "Have we over spiritualized, possibly idolized communion itself?" Don't get me wrong, I love communion, but I may love it for a different reason. I love communion because I take it in the presence of my Lord, and my community, not because I believe a special measure of grace is extended to me in the act of taking the elements. It serves as a reminder to me and the church that we are united in the body and blood of Christ, and that my brokenness is the brokenness of us all. The salvation of my being is the salvation of us all.

While this is a holy act, I find it rooted in the normality of sharing a meal. What if communion was taken in the context of a church potluck, a small group dinner, or every night around my dinner table with my kids? That seems to be closer to the experience of the disciples than what I only experience 8 or 9 times a year.

Does the shiny cup express the reverance of the act, or the idolotry of our own perceptions and desires for there to be something more happening than what Christ intended. I'm still wrestling it.

While Li'l John might not be able to get enough of his "Crunk Juice", I may not be getting enough communion.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Book Review #4: The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero

Subtitle, A strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives.

OF course I would be interested in this book for two reasons; One -its about discipleship, and two - my church needs emotional help, but then who's doesn't.

Peter begins the book with recounting his own critical need for a shift in ministry and life when his wife decides " I'm quitting the church." Like many pastors, Peter falls into the trap of loving the church and trusting God will take care of the rest, instead of loving his family and trusting God will take care of the rest, i.e ministry (I'm borrowing this distinction from Andy Stanley).

Peter puts a large emphasis on the need for spiritually healthy leadership as the path for a spiritually healthy church. If the leadership is out of balance, so will the church. Not exactly rocket science, but a significant truth. Scazzero also pushes at the desire for leaders to minimize weakness and elevate strengths. He encourages leaders to embrace and lead from weakness, being transparent about their growth edges. While this seems antithetical to the what the world teaches, it is essential to the health of the church.

Within the book, Scazzero has an emotional health survey. While overall I scored as an emotionally healthy adult, I scored as an adolescent in my understanding of limits ( notice my transparency). I also bordered on my understanding of my own vulnerability ( see . . .I'm being even more transparent).

Overall, Scazzero lays out a way for the church (and individuals) to experience transformation. Most churches, when it comes to problems, close their eyes, say a prayer, and hope people's brokenness goes away, only to find out later it never does unless embraced and named. Scazzero is big into naming family systems and how they affect our relationships ( very Bowen family system like).

While you might grab this book and pray that Scazzero lays out a step by step method and model for discipleship (IE. Purpose Driven Church; Building a Church of Small Groups, etc), he simply elevates the value of transformation through relationship, or incarnational ministry; being Jesus to one another in the way we love each other (getting into each other's lives). Like Ogden, Scazzero believes in peer mentoring; getting into close proximity with at least one other person, and getting under the surface of each other's lives. Needless to say, discipleship is messy and wonderful.

Overall, if you're looking for a packaged method for discipleship, you're out of luck. Scazzero lays out the values for transformation, and gives a lot of examples, but its not " Easy-bake discipleship". It does have discussion questions at the end of the book for each chapter, but I wouldn't say its a great small group resource. I would say its great for a church staff or elder board to go through as they navigate transition. Any book that helps a staff or elder board to name the past and the issues that keep the church from making disciples is a good book.

I enjoyed the book because my church is in such a place. I started reading this book when our pastors resigned, and had put it down. This week I picked it up again and it was both very confirming and healing. The principle of embracing my limits was particularly a fresh revelation and release that it's OK to not know everything as a leader. If you called my this week and I said "No, I can't" or " I don't know", I'm growing.

See you next Friday. I'm still considering what I'll read. I'll let you know Monday.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Word Pictures

I am constantly aware and thinking about word pictures that communicate Biblical truth. That's why I love the parables of Jesus, and yet they frustrate me in much the same way the disciples were frustrated. Sometimes I just want to say "Tell it like it is Jesus." Oh, that's right, He just did.

How do you explain grace and forgiveness without giving examples of it? I believe the parables were Jesus' primary teaching/discipling tool, rooted in everyday living and experiences.

Do we have contemporary parables? Are there word pictures in our current living experiences that communicate Biblical truth about the Kingdom?

For Example: If sin is like a shared genetic mutation, then Jesus is the ultimate gene theropy.

As I imagine Jesus teaching the disciples about the Kingdom, Its hard for me to think that he would stop and the music would begin to play, and the disciples would crowd around, and Jesus would then begin "This is what the Kingdom is like . . . ".

No, I imagine Jesus walking along with the disciples, and being asked " What is the Kingdom like?" and Jesus simply looking and being observant to his surroundings, and saying " You know . . . its like this mustard seed." No big climatic shift, enhanced with music. Just matter of fact, "Here's the deal."

What are word pictures in our current culture that express Biblical truth. I think we're surounded by them, all we have to do is look.

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Colossians 4:2-6

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Oscars

I admit, I haven't seen the recent nominees, but my sense is that they don't make movies the way they used to. Not much time is spent on dialogue when you have special effects. I posted a video link below of one of my favorite movies, The Lion in Winter. I pray you enjoy it. It’s a classic.

The Lion in Winter

Friday, February 15, 2008

Book Review #3: Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden

The subtitle of this book is "Making Disciples a Few at a Time". That is exactly the method Greg encourages, and re-emphasizes in the last chapter of his book. Greg's model of discipleship making is the triad; 3 committed believers whose primary goal is to grow in Christ likeness, with one of the 3 being the facilitator. The triad is to covenant for one year and then the facilitator takes on another 2 "disciples" while the other 2 pick up 2 of their own. Each year you use the same content because the relationships change. thus changing the experience.

What I appreciated about Greg's book was that it was both thoughtful and provided solid information that could be put into practice. Greg does a great job building the bridge from the ministry to Jesus to the ministry of the church. Often books like this go from the ministry of Jesus into the theoretical world, seldom landing the plane. Greg also emphasizes the important of relationship over program. Discipleship is not a church growth program, but the ministry given to us by Christ to transform lives, our community, and the world.

If you are looking for a book that gives Biblical support and "This is how to do it", Greg's book is a must read. If you have been discipling for some time, and know the ropes, this is still a good read because it reconfirms the reasons we headed the call, and also gives some good insight into leadership issues. Pastors seeking to have impact on lay leaders ought to read this.

Greg stays consistent with his book The New Reformation; we are all called into the ministry, and thus we must all be equipped to do the work of Christ. This book helps get us there.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I'm invincible . . . .. You're a loony.

I am the Black Knight. I have no good sense of myself, and when to surrender until its too late. I will fight tooth and nail, loosing limb after limb, and still believe that I'm invincible.

The church can be the same way. The church can believe that with enough smart people, a substantial budget, a history of successes and credentials, that it can become above the discipline of God. We will fight tooth and nail, God can remove people, power, and resources, and we still believe we are invincible.

We will stand limbless and proud and declare our supremacy in the face of God’s loving discipline. . . or we can choose to surrender to God’s loving discipline and be transformed.

I don’t want to be the Black Knight. The church doesn’t want to be the Black Knight. But we will be as long as we fight against God and choose not to recognize his loving discipline in our lives.

Hebrews 12:4-6 (NIV)
"4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Being Steadfast

You may never know the kind of impact you will have on someone, and then there are days when you get a call from someone whom you've helped shape for Christ.

I got such a call today from a friend I worked with over 10 years ago at a coffee shop I managed. I had no idea that this young person would ever go from being in high school, grappling with faith, playing oboe, and pouring coffee to pursuing an MDiv and ordination in PCUSA. They just called to share their enthusiasm and to say thanks for being there from the beginning. It has been absolutely fun to watch the progress and transformation from afar via email and phone calls, and I look forward to a future cup of coffee.

To share in this journey is not a confirmation of my gifts and abilities, but a confirmation of the gospel itself. It changes lives. Our part, as Woody Allen puts it, is to “show up”, and as Paul puts it,” be ready”.

You can not underestimate the need to be consistent, and the impact of being faithful will have on another person's journey. I was not working in a church. I wasn’t ordained. I was just pouring coffee, managing a shop, as a Christ follower.

Jesus, thank you for allowing me to share in the journey of another disciple. Thank you for reminding me to be consistent in the demonstration and proclamation of the Gospel. May the good work you began in us be completed in the transformation of other’s lives.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

special Saturday entry

On a day like today, when its getting colder by the minute, and there's 8 inches of snow on the ground, I long to be in my garden. Pics like this help me get through the winter. Enjoy.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Book Review #2: Your Money Counts

If you are looking for a good book on handling your finances from a Biblical perspective that has a wholistic approach to how we view our wealth, work, family, and faith, then this book is a must read.

It is not heavy handed. It gives good basic information that doesn't require an MBA to understand. It provideds some basic tools to discern standard of living, budgeting, investing, and handleing debt.

Often we shy away from books like this because of the shame or fear we have that we won't measure up to the standards. Dayton uses both personal and observed stories to show not many of us do, but that there is hope. You need to approach this book, or any like it, with the intent to learn and grow. The goal is not perfection, but freedom and transformation ( financially and spiritually).

If there is one chapter that I would encourage all to read, it would be the one on Giving-What is your attitude? Dayton starts this chapter not out of Malachai or another "typcial" giving passage, but out of 1 Cor. 13:3; that if we don't give out of a sense of love (for God and neighbor), then we profit nothing. Dayton also emphasizes that we are to give unselfishly because Christ gave of himself.

Dayton does share that giving 10% is a good standard, but that a fixed standard can also become like any other bill to be paid. Dayton stresses the joy of giving, and giving according to one's ability. While Dayton believes a tenth should be the standard, he also says it should not be the limit, and that if one is able to give more than a tenth, they should prayerfully do so.

This chapter is typical of Dayton's book because he gives scriptural support, coupled with personal examples, and stresses the importance of prayer and being purposeful in the discipline.

Is is good for small groups? Not so much, unless your small group likes to do home work, and the leader is good at extracting questions. I would use this more for personal reflection. Its an excellent resource for anyone considering teaching on stewardship.

Next Week's Review: Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden

Monday, February 4, 2008


Last night I watched was has been labled one of, if not the, greatest upsets in professional sports; the Giants beating the Patriots. Was it an upset, or a clash between two professional teams, relying on talent, skill, and team work? Sure the Patriots entered with an ubeaten record, and the Giants were 0-2 at the start of the season, and entered the playoffs as a wildcard, but the Giants are also professional athletes with the same goal as the Patriots, win the Super Bowl. If your goal as a NFL player is anything less, then why suit up?

Perspective is a tricky thing. You can either be at the bottom of a well looking up, or and the edge of it looking down. You can be called by God to a significant ministry, and that calling may include (and often does) suffering. You can be Moses, prohibited from entering the promise land, or Joshua, leading the people in.

In my own experience of wrestling with depression, perspective is elussive. I have to return to what is true. I have to discipline my mind to return to what I know to be true and to what I have been told is true, because otherwise, my mind rationalizes scenerios that are rooted in my sense of fear and anxiety.

God's word for me, and my faith are like an anchor, sure and steadfast. God's word helps to recalibrate my mind to what is significant and worthy when my mind is easily trapped by the immediate or corrosive. Culture shifts its values and perspective, when God's word is steadfast. Cutlure elevates the fleating, when God's word lifts up the eternal. Culture holds to a form of Godliness, but denies the power. God's word, through the Holy Spirit, releases power.

God, thank you for your word, and its truth. Help me to live in the reality of your truth, and not in mine. Forgive me for denying the truth of your word, and living in my fear and anxiety, and accepting it. Help me to live your truth so that others might live it as well. Amen

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Book Reveiw #1: The Beautiful Fight by Gary Thomas

There are way too many quotes from this book to quote. Needless to say, Gary is an excellent writer who is able to communicate profound Biblical truth in clear word pictures. He does an excellent job of pushing the Gospel of transformation through its paces, incorporating the theology of the accession, and not allowing the reader off the hook with just "do nots", but now that you have heard and seen "do like wise."

" The gospel of transformation calls me to progress from not lusting to having eyes that honor, respect, and generate compassion." page 63

With this, he writes about the transformation of our eyes, mouths, heart, hands, feet, mind, and ears as instruments ( he actually uses the word submissive) of God; going beyond the elimination of sin, but moving towards the practice of righteousness.

The third section the book deals with embracing personal transformation, being available to and pursuing transformation, recognizing its not an easy process, but it is a process to be pursued in community. If we dare heed the call to come follow, then we should count the cost, because the call is nothing short of a call to be transformed; living compelling lives that inspire others to fight the beautiful fight.

Gary does what few writers seldom do; combine good theology, church history, and contemporary illustrations to communicate truth; challenging the reader to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel. While you won't get " Here are three steps", you do you get a list of ingredients for transformation.

Is it good for small groups? In the back of the book there are discussion questions that engage the reader around the material and illustrations. While the books is laced with scripture refrences and quotes from theologians, the questions are not rooted in the observation but in the application of scriptural truth. They would serve to help a small group get to know each other.

If you have a group who functions like a book club, this would be great. If your group doesn't like to do homework, this may be a little bit to chew off.

For personal use, if you find Dallas Willard a little dense, you may find Gary a little more tangible, but no less thought provoking. Gary is just able to communicate in a more consice manner.

You can't afford not to read The Beautiful Fight.

Next Week's Reveiw : Your Money Counts by Howard Dayton

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Jackson Pollack Theology

While life on the Internet, and particularly Blogger, is relatively clean and controlled, life outside the net is messy and beautiful, much like a Jackson Pollack painting.

While I am not a big fan of Jackson Pollack, I can see the appeal and the transfer of reality through the simple dribbling of paint on a blank canvas . . . .as if I knew how to analyze art.

Anyway. You get the picture. Life is messy, and God is at work in the mess to create beauty.

The Virtual Church . . its not as far away as you think.

'virtual' has a similar meaning to ' quasi-' or 'pseudo'-

If you Google Virtual Church you will actually find one. The concept is that you can experience a worship service and a community of people without direct interface. You can do 'church' without the messiness of people. In a way, that's what Blogger offers a lot of people, community without the messiness of life. Its probably one of the reasons why I like it. I get to create my own reality through this page, that I design, comment on whatever I want, and change features of that reality. On my page, I am the creator, initiator, and controller. You are the responder. Could I be treading on Idolatry? Give me an Amen! . . . I promise never to use my power for evil.

Now, even though there is an opportunity to experience the Virtual church, our approach to the real church is not much different. We attend a service, often designed to our liking ( and if not, we find one that is), we critique it like a Broadway musical afterwards, using lingo like " I wasn't fed today ", and then we go about our existence; being creator, initiator, and controller ( so we think), avoiding the messiness and beauty of human interaction.

" 13Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" James 5:13-16 NIV

Grace Abounds

I'm still figuring out how to move a draft to a blog, so I'll be retyping yesterdays thoughts for today. The theme for yesterday was the Vertual Church . . .Its not as far away as you think.

I'll be posting a second thought later in the day as well.

Check back soon.


Monday, January 28, 2008

What can you expect from me?

This blog thing is new to me, and the last thing I want is to start a blog and not post, and become one of those people who start out great, post a couple of times, and then drop it for several months, or forever, because the reality is . . .that's how I operate in other areas of me life (exercise, eating well, reading, ect), and my only resolution for 2008 is to surrender myself to the transforming power of the Gospel.

So, I am convenanting with myself ( and you) to post Monday through Friday. My goal for 2008 is to read a book a week, and to post a review of that book on Friday. This week I will be reading The Beautiful Fight: Surrendering to the Transforming Presence of God Every Day of Your Life by Gary Thomas.

Here we go, and see you tomorrow!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Why the title . . qadosh?

Qadosh - Hebrew for holy / set appart. I find it interesting, actually amazing, that holiness is something both ascribed to and prescribed by a holy God to his people. The call to reflect the glory ( character) of God is simply overwhelming and yet the call to anything less would seem trivial. While I am reticent to ascribe holiness to myself, it is intrinsic to Christ's call " come follow me". This blog is a place for me ( and you) to wrestle with this call.
Labels: 1.25.08