Monthly Archives: December 2014

Top 10 Books I Read in 2014

Here are the top 10 books I read in 2014. These books were interesting, enjoyable, and helped me see life more clearly.

10. Concrete Killing Fields by Pat Morgan: First person account of working to end homelessness. Plus, the author provided a guest post for this blog.

9. Sway by Ori Brafman: Fascinating look at why we so often make illogical decisions. Bonus points for using a lot of aviation examples. (Post inspired by Sway: In Praise of the Curmudgeon)

8. Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley: One of the most accessible and compelling books on preaching. (What makes a sermon life changing?)

7. In Search of Deep Faith by Jim Belcher: Successfully weaves history, theology, and philosophy into a story of his family’s journey through Europe. (Story of Le Chambon)

6. Letter from a Birmingham Jail: Not a book, but still an excellent read, which is why it made the list. (‘Extreme’ Religion)

5. Radical by David Platt: This book punches you in the face, on a good way. (Book Review)

4. The Reason for God by Tim Keller: One of the better apologetic books out there. This one will definitely need a re-read some day. (Review of apologetics books)

3. Parenting by the Book by John Rosemond: Lays out a comprehensive system of raising children. The best of the various books on parenting that I read this year.

2. The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis: It’s a classic for a reason. (Lewis’ dystopic vision)

1.  Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Mind blown by the number of paradigms in hit me with. Covey is an excellent communicator. (Inside-Out Thinking, Important but not Urgent, Dependence, Independence, Interdependence)

Honorable Mention:

Raised? by Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson: This is a good short apologetic on the resurrection and some of the basics of Christian faith. (Review)

Here’s all the other books I read in 2014, in no particular order: Launching a Leadership Revolution (Leadership), I Wear the Black Hat (Soc Sci), Erasing Hell (my first reading of Francis Chan), Beyond Awkward (evangelism), Be the Dad She Needs you to Be (Parenting), Family Shepherds (Parenting), Oh! You’re one of those people (Personal history/homelessness), The Return of the Prodigal Son, A Godward Heart (Devotional), Firsthand, Unstoppable (Christian Living), The Greatest Words Ever Spoken (Reference), Ragamuffin Bible.

What were your favorite books of 2014?

Advertisements

Worship with Kids

It can be hard to worship in church with little kids. I have a four and two year old and both stay with us during the song portion of the service. The four year old, for whatever reason, wants to be held constantly (only on Sunday mornings) and isn’t shy about complaining loudly if she isn’t getting her way. The two year old is in constant motion. My wife and I want to focus our minds and hearts on the words we are singing but it’s really hard when you’re being constantly interrupted. And, if for a little while you aren’t being interrupted, you start to wonder why.

One solution would be to get the kids out of the service. But I think children’s participation in the same worship service as their parents is too important to lose. They need to see their parents singing to God. They need to learn to participate themselves. They need to know what worship looks like. Getting them out of the service gives a short-term solution but can introduce long-term problems.

And so we are left with a dilemma. We want our kids in worship with us but they are often a source of major distractions. For a while I felt guilty about this. I thought that these distractions were preventing me from worship God.

As I’ve thought through these issues I’ve come to understand worship more broadly. “Worship,” as a friend of mine put it, “is a posture of bowing down in every area of life.” It is a response of reverence, awe, and gratitude toward God (Heb 12:28-29). That response can take the form of singing songs and when it does it is probably more accurately called “praise.” But singing is but one form of worship. We truly worship when we offer our whole lives to God as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1-2).

With this broader view of worship I am able to incorporate the training of my children under the broader category of worship. On Sunday morning while I am singing praises in worship am I also teaching my kids to have an attitude of reverence and awe toward God? Are their little distractions preventing me from worship or are they really opportunities to worship God in another way?

So to you moms and dads with kids in worship tomorrow: God is pleased with your acts of worship, as you sing and as you train (or at least corral) your children.

Dallas Willard on the absurdity of trite slogans

This excerpt from The Divine Conspiracy was written by Dallas Willard in 1998 before Facebook “memes” was a thing. Imagine if these paragraphs would have been written today.

In shambles of fragmented assurances from the past, our longing for goodness and rightness and acceptance – and orientation – makes us cling to bumper slogans, body graffiti, and gift shop nostrums that in our proofed upside-down-ness somehow seem deep but in fact make no sense: “Stand up for your rights” sounds so good. How about “All I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten”? And “Practice random kindnesses and senseless acts of beauty?” And so forth.

Such sayings contain a tiny element of truth. But if you try to actually plan your life using them you are immediately in deep, deep trouble. They will head you 180 degrees in the wrong direction. You might as well model your life on Bart Simpson or Seinfeld. But try instead “Stand up for your responsibilities” or “I don’t know what I need to know and must now devote my full attention and strength to finding out” (Consider Prov. 3:7 or 4:7) or “Practice routinely purposeful kindnesses and intelligent acts of beauty.”
Putting these into practice immediately begins to bring truth, goodness, strength, and beauty into our lives. But you will never find them on a greeting card, plaque, or bumper. They aren’t thought to be smart. What is truly profound is thought to be stupid and trivial is thought to be profound. That is what it means to fly upside down. (from The Divine Conspiracy, 9 – 10)

Book Review: Beyond Awkward by Beau Crosetto

Talking about Jesus is outside by comfort zone, which may sound weird coming from a pastor. But it’s true. Most of the time I’m talking about Jesus it’s in a religious setting – which doesn’t faze me at all – but get me out of that setting and it’s just plain awkward. It probably is for you too, which, if you want to be a more bold and less awkward witness, that’s probably a good reason to read Beyond Awkward: When Talking About Jesus Is Outside Your Comfort Zone.

There are three “big ideas” in this book that I want to interact with more closely.

Moving Beyond Awkward

The title is a play on words. Evangelism can be really awkward but it’s worth it and on the other side of the awkward there is a divine encounter, a spiritual breakthrough, so we have to get beyond the awkward moments. Crosetto admits that evangelism will always be awkward because in evangelism we are almost always breaking various social rules. Crosetto makes some great points about how being “pushy” is different from being “bold.” Pushy people try to force their way in. Bold people step through the door God opens. Timid people avoid the situation all together, pretending there is no door. Pushy people make things unnecessarily awkward. Bold people accept some level of awkwardness but move forward anyway. Timid people avoid awkwardness completely.

But if we ourselves know the goodness of the gospel, love our friends and family, and believe that it’s really worth it, then we need to be bold. Crosetto states his case as follows:

“Evangelistic moments will freak us out. But if we bail out early we will miss the breakthrough moment that God, the other person and we were hoping for the whole time… If you want to see God move, then you need to enter into the awkwardness” (p42-43 author’s emphasis).

All of this is based on two assumptions. The first is that God is always busy setting up opportunities for his people to bear witness to his name. The second is that there are seekers waiting to have a spiritual conversation. The role of the evangelist is to see those opportunities as they arise, following the lead of the Spirit and go through the doors that the seeker opens.

Spiritual Warfare

Here is where the book really gets interesting. Crosetto spends a lot of time talking about the supernatural aspects of evangelism. He begins this section with a personal story. When he was a new Christian he had the opportunity to do some evangelism in a village in Egypt. While witnessing door to door, at each place he visited, he would receive some kind of “word of knowledge” which he would deliver through his interpreter. These words of knowledge were things he couldn’t have known apart from some supernatural source. At one point he prayed over a withered hand and it was healed immediately, much to the shock of those he was with. The impact of these events is that it confirmed the message of the gospel to the people in the village. At the time Crosetto had no idea how to interpret what had happened, except that he knew it was the power of God.

I don’t exactly know how to interpret the story either. Part of me is skeptical but on the whole I believe it. First, it’s certainly not beyond the power of God, even if it is outside of my experience. Second, the impact of the signs is the same impact as that in the book of Acts – it confirmed the message of the gospel and pointed people to Christ. Third, Crosetto’s story could be discredited. He was with a group of Americans, any of whom could read his account and publicly discount what had occurred. Fourth, I doubt very much that Crosetto expects to make a lot of money from this book. In other words, he doesn’t have much to gain by lying about it.

This experience clearly shaped Crosetto’s view of evangelism and that view is presented in the book. In evangelistic encounters he expects to hear the voice of God. When preparing for evangelism or engaged in it he will ask God for some image or word to aid him. Once he received the image of a wall, which he first interpreted to mean that the person had hit some “wall” spiritually. When he asked her what she thought about God, though, she said that she always thought of God being “in the wall” because that is how her parents had always prayed. He then shared with her that he had been given the image of the wall and all this aided his evangelistic efforts and confirmed the gospel for her.

From Crosetto’s perspective God has given us general instructions in his authoritative Word but he also guides us through his ongoing voice helping us in specific situations. He looks to Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian in Acts as an example. Philip has a general call (Go and make disciples) and then God gives him ever increasingly specific instructions (Go South, Go up to the Chariot). We need to listen to both.

Crosetto puts in all the necessary caveats and even includes a special appendix for trying to discern the voice of God in our lives. We need to test it against Scripture, which is authoritative. We need to test it against the community. We need to ask whether it is making us into more mature Christ-followers. Etc.

I am not a pure cessationist, that is, I don’t believe that all miraculous activity or so-called sign gifts ceased after the book of Acts. I remain open, at least, to the possibility. To do otherwise, I think, would be to put God in too much of a box. If he does act in that way I don’t want to be caught saying “He could never do that.” However, I’m skeptical of Crosetto’s approach to evangelism.

There’s another way to interpret the “voice of God” which guides us to specific applications of general commands. In this alternate interpretation the Christ follower is continually growing in awareness of God, His Word, His values and is growing in awareness of the world around him and how God’s command intersects with God’s command. The nudging of the Spirit might be that his conscience is more attuned to the love of God and he is able to recognize opportunities that arise around him. That’s not to say that the Holy Spirit isn’t active in this interpretation. He is. He is always confirming to us the truth of God’s Word and helping us apply it to our lives. I think both interpretations are equally “spiritual” in nature.

It doesn’t, however, account for Crosetto’s “words of knowledge,” which for now I will do nothing more than add to the pieces of evidence which point towards their reality. From my tradition Crosetto experiences seem “weird,” but not unorthodox or dangerous. He definitely challenged my thinking on this point, for which I am grateful.

Methodology

Crosetto gives some guidelines on evangelistic methodology. Early on he suggests that in our experience-based culture an experience-based evangelistic method is needed. In my experience with youth in our city, he seems to be spot on, although I should note that culture is by no means uniform. I have several friends for which propositional evangelism would still probably be the most effective route. He gives advice on how to avoid being pushy, how to be patient (but not miss the moment when it arises), how to ask good questions, and how to turn a conversation to Jesus.

To turn a conversation to Jesus we need to locate the “handle” which Crosetto identifies as that particular need (such as fear, anger, or frustration) which intersects with the good news of the gospel. From there we can guide the seeker to a divine encounter and share the gospel. For instance, Crosetto had a friend who confided in him his struggles with his job. After some time Crosetto asked him if he wanted to know how knowing God and following Jesus could help him. When his friend opened the door (said that he did want to talk about that) it gave Crosetto the opportunity to share the gospel more fully.

Beyond Awkward is filled with wisdom, exhortation, and encouragement. I’m inspired by Crosetto’s many stories. God calls his children to be bold witnesses for his name, not pushy, but not overly timid either. The gospel is the good news and it’s the good news for the entire world. May he help us share it.

Romania Travel Journal – Cozia Monastery

After our mini-conference in Ostraveni the team, along with Pastor Dorin, traveled north to visit the village of Guajani. On the way there (after picking up some meds for one motion-sick passenger) we stopped by Cozia, a beautiful Orthodox monastery. The visit was simultaneously inspiring and sad. The landscape, architecture, and art (the whole interior and exterior of the main building was painted with murals) were outwardly moving but the religion expressed there was lifeless. The “service” was unintelligible chanting. The gift shop sold “blessed” items to bring the buyer good luck. The museum held artifacts of a bygone age. The place was itself a relic: interesting to observe and ponder but containing little or no spiritual vitality.

Inside Cozia

Outside the sanctuary

Inspiring view of the Olt River

I have no doubt that there are many Orthodox believers who are true followers of Jesus. Jeremy believes he met a priest who had a clear understanding of the gospel on the Sunday we were there. But even that priest admitted he was an outlier. For much of the country, according to the pastors we spent time with, religion there is a matter of culture, not true belief.

It is infused with superstition, especially in the countryside. Some of the horses we saw in the village had ornaments on them so that no one would give them the “evil eye.” We also saw places where “believers” gave food and water to the dead for their travels in the afterlife. Many people in matters of religion are ruled by fear, not by love.

More disturbingly, religion is often infused with power, often State power, which can be used either for personal gain or to invoke fear. The Pastor I stayed with had many a story of intimidation from the local priests or religious officials. He had his tires slashed. He had rocks thrown at him. He had gangs threaten his church.  People in the villages were told not to go to his church or they would lose their salvation. In the villages we went to we would often see rows of small shacks followed by an extremely nice house. I pointed this out to Dorin on one visit. “That’s where the priest lives,” he said.

Orthodox Christianity is intermingled with the State in ways that would be disconcerting for many Americans. The “religion” teacher in every school we visited was an Orthodox priest. In political discussions I learned that some politicians were promoting the building of a large cathedral in Bucharest called “The Salvation of the People.”

Before coming to Romania a lot of people asked me why I was going to a country that was already Christian. Indeed, most everyone there would claim Christianity as their religion. But what I saw in most cases was that their religion had little resemblance (and I’m not speaking culturally here!) to following Jesus. Religion there pointed people to “The Church” or to the priest, but not to Jesus.

But there are many who are faithful and many are faithful in the face of stiff opposition. And it was this faithfulness that I got to witness in the village of Guajani.

Questions from a bi-vocational pastor about pastoral burnout

After yet another conversation with mostly full-time pastors talking about pastoral burnout I have a few nagging questions. Since I’m bi-vocational and interact with people in some pretty stressful non-ministry jobs, it made me wonder…

Why is burnout so often spoken about in pastoral ministry but not in other professions? A lot more pastors seem to “burn out” from ministry, but I’m not sure I understand why this is the case.

In the discussion both Sabbath-rests and days off were discussed as distinct days. What’s the distinction? Do you need to take both? Do we expect the people in our churches to do both?

Which leads to burnout more quickly, more working hours or higher demands and emotional stress? From my experience in bi-vocational ministry, I work more hours but have less struggle with the burnout I hear about from those in full-time ministry.

Does the frequency of talk of pastor-burnout belittle the equally stressful work of the people in our congregation? Are we as pastors as concerned about overwork from our people as we are for ourselves?

I don’t want to minimize pastoral burnout. I’m just trying to understand why it seems to be such a pastor-centric issue. Or, maybe, I’m questioning whether it is or not. I’m open to being enlightened.

Beyond Awkward, Models of Evangelism, and Attic After School

I recently started reading Beyond Awkward: When Talking About Jesus Is Outside Your Comfort Zone by evangelist Beau Crosetto. The big idea in this book is that while talking about Jesus is beyond awkward it is nevertheless worth it, both for us and for those in conversation with us and so we must get beyond awkward and be willing to share when God gives us the opportunity. Good stuff. I got this book from Jessica Fick, who is currently in the editing process of her own book on evangelism: Beautiful Feet. I’m really looking forward to reading and passing along that book as well.

After a few chapters of straight-up exhortation, Crosetto moves into a meaty chapter which discusses several models of evangelism. Our generation is different, he says, then previous generations. Specifically, people of younger generations “want to act their way into faith, while previous generations needed to think their way in.” That is, our current culture is experienced based. More cognitively based generations responded well to reasoned arguments for the gospel (the persuasion model), but today’s generation may be better served by a different model of evangelism.

At this point Crosetto presents what he learned as the “Celtic model” which emphasizes process, journey, and “belonging before believing.” Crosetto argues that while propositional truth is still necessary for evangelism – he is not rejecting the persuasive model – it might not be the best thing to open with. Instead Crosetto suggests we open with personal stories of life change, of our personal testimonies or the testimonies of others. Experienced based cultures, says Crosetto, are asking whether or not “it works” and transformational stories demonstrate the truth that it does.

Crosetto offers the analogy of a house. These “transformational stories” are the front door. From there, Crosetto invites people who are interested to join seeker-style discussion-based Bible studies (the living room). InterVarsity calls these “God Investigation Groups,” or GIGs. It’s in these settings that Crosetto is able to offer the propositional truth of the gospel. It’s also in these settings that Crosetto sees a lot of people come to faith in Jesus. From there, Crosetto tries to help the young believers see that following Jesus is a journey of faith and he asks questions such as “are you submitting to Jesus in every area of your life?”

In the first stage of evangelism, the front door, Crosetto thinks in terms of a “center-set” model. Is the person moving toward or away from Christ? In the second state, Crosetto thinks in terms of the “bounded-set” model. Has the person believed and accepted the gospel? In the third stage Crosetto thinks in terms of a journey model. Is the person following in the way of Jesus?

What struck me most about this chapter was how closely it matches what we are doing with our Attic After School ministry at church. As I discussed in an earlier post, our After School ministry is our open door. We emphasize belonging before believing. We spend the first several weeks sharing our personal testimonies publicly and also share in private conversations what God is doing in our lives. The teens who come perfectly match Crosetto’s description. They want to know, “does the gospel work?” and we try to give them the opportunity to see that it does by experiencing the love of God in community, whether or not they believe the same things we do – which they often don’t. A lot of the teens feel they belong to our church in some fundamental way before they would ever make a verbal ascent to the gospel. Our focus during this time is building relationships and trying to slowly but surely point the teenagers to Christ.

From there we invite the teens into a deeper study of the Word, to Youth Group, and Sunday morning worship. As Crosetto, we want to move unbelievers through the process and to, ultimately, becoming full followers of Jesus.

It’s important to note that we didn’t have any of this foresight in mind when we started our Attic After School ministry. It’s also important to note that the same principle applies to adults. The new recent believers in our church followed the same process. They weren’t swayed by an evangelistic sermon but through relationships with believers who loved them enough to point them to Christ. Evangelistic sermons are necessary and often provide the content which accompanies the relationships but they function together with experiential model Crosetto describes in his book.