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