Month: September 2017

Review: Becoming Real

Becoming Real
by Steven James

Are you sick of pretending? Pretending you’re fine? Pretending you have it together? Do you wish you could drop the masquerade and finally just… be real? In this book, Steven James takes the reader through who they really are, showing them their sin – and then showing them their Savior. What does it look like to be real? James shows what authentic living looks like.

James gets a lot of things right. He talks about how if we’re honest with ourselves, we are ugly, ugly people. He holds up the Law in an unflinching manner, telling us all about how our real selves are sinners. One of my favorite quotes from him is, “The four most dangerous words in the world are these: Feel good about yourself” (119, emphasis in original). Look, be real and be honest: Our sin is terrible. We’re not good people who mess up. We’re dead people. Dead in sin. Dead in our trespasses. “God’s laws and commands were not given to show us the road map to heaven so we can find our own way there; they were given to prove to us that we really are lost” (17). (more…)

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Roll Up the Sky

It’s one of those days when I am hungering for something More. I’m done here.

The causes don’t matter except that they are more and more symptoms of this broken world. My heart aches for the battle to end, for the sky to roll up, for the stars to fall, for the Throne to stand before me, to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

And even as my heart aches for it, it fears.

I have not done well. (more…)

Those Three Small Words

Date

You don’t say, “I love you,” on a first date unless you really want to freak out the other person. I remember when dating wrestling on when to say, “I love you.” Too early, you freak the other person out. Too late, and they think the relationship is going nowhere. It’s an artful balance complicated by, you know, those crazy little emotion things.

I am done with the dating (barring God choosing to take my Bride home and me eventually dating again, but I’ll leave those thoughts for another day). I get to wake up daily with a woman I love, to whom I say, “I love you” often. I pray I live that commitment every day, not just in words, but also in actions. But it’s not weird for me to tell her that I love her, and it’s certainly not weird for her to return that thought. It’s good. It’s comfortable. It’s real.

How soon is too soon to tell my congregation that I love them? (more…)

Review: UnChristian

UnChristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity …and why it matters
by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

Barna Research asked over 50,000 people who aren’t Christians what they thought of Christianity. This book is the result of the research. It highlights the most common responses, as well as what proper responses are. The most common responses were: Hypocritical, Conversion-Focused, Antihomosexual, Sheltered, Too Political, and Judgmental. After some introductory chapters, lengthy chapters focus on each word, giving ample time for those outside Christianity to explain what they mean and why they say it. Each chapter then concludes with reactions from Christian leaders. The book then wraps up with a summary chapter pointing the way ahead.

There are two bad ways this book could have gone. It could have wrung its hands saying, “Look how terrible it is for the church! We need to change the way we do everything or we’ll be forgotten!” It could also have brushed off the complaints: “Clearly these people have no idea what Christianity is, so we need to double down on what we do.” Instead, it walks a narrow middle ground: “If this is their perception, we need to deal with it. And is this an opportunity for us to do some soul-searching? Are their perceptions accurate?” And rather than turn to popular opinion, the book urges us to turn to Christ to see the way to go.

I appreciated the balance a great deal. The book take a look, for example, why Christians are regarded as “hypocritical,” giving several examples of why outsiders view Christians that way. It then warns that outsiders will never understand Christians fully, as they do not know Jesus. And then – gasp! – the book asks the reader to evaluate their actions in the light of Christ, and rather than do what a congregation might want, see what Jesus would do. (more…)

Brace for the Storm

So… apparently the sky is going to fall.

Sunday, a guest told me, “God used you to speak to me today.” It was a very basic Law-Gospel sermon. This is why we praise God: Because we know who we are. We are sinners. We know what Jesus did for sinners like us: Die. When we put those two together, we have to praise.

Apparently that deeply touched this guest.

Sunday a prospect told me, “God has used you to make me a more mature Christian.”

Today my church president told me, “We called the right man. Pastor, I am so glad you’re here.”

This is… this is so much encouragement that I want to hear. This touches my heart so, so much.

And it makes me nervous as hell. (more…)

Review: The Social Church

The Social Church: a Theology of Digital Communication
by Justin Wise

Well, the digital revolution arrived. If you’re reading this, you’re online. (Unless someone printed out this review for you…? That’s kinda weird.) But… a lot of churches haven’t joined the revolution yet. They’re afraid, in large part because when you join social media, you can’t control the narrative anymore. People can… talk back. They can leave reviews of your church. And what if they say something wrong?! Wise’s book addresses churches in this book, talking about the necessity of digital communication and social media interaction. He talks about good ways to use social media, things to watch out for, and ways that social media will highlight the bad side of far too many congregations. In the end, he encourages churches with some great guidelines to use.

Overall thought: Though Wise mangles the Gospel, he gives some very good worldly wisdom on how and why to use digital media in ministry. (more…)

Hurt With

God promises.

He promises to wipe every tear from our eyes. Every sorrow gone. Ever weeping moment blotted away and replaced with joy.

And today… it is not enough.

I do not want him to wipe away the tears from my eyes. I long for him to wipe the tears from my heart.

I’ve known this day was coming for a while. Moving shakes things up. Picking up a different ministry means a new equilibrium must be found. Finding new joys and sorrows does not cure depression, though.

My depression is not constant, and for this I am thankful. It comes in waves, in moments and days and weeks at times which sometimes I can predict and sometimes catches me unawares. I have known, though. Oh, I have known that in this new place, depression would find me.

Today it has found me. (more…)

Review: The Temple

The Temple: Its Ministry and Services As They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ
by Alfred Edersheim

Jesus spent a lot of time in and around the Temple in Jerusalem, as did every practicing Jewish man of his time. What kind of rituals went on in the Temple? How did people approach the altar? Could they? What did it feel and smell like? And how do Jesus’s words reflect his time and the culture he preached to, as he talked about the Temple and showed he was what the Temple and all its ministries pointed to? Edersheim’s book takes deep scholarship of what the Temple was like at that time and applies it to Jesus. He spends chapters talking about the various festivals, how sacrifices were made, and whether or not the Last Supper really took place on the Passover or the night before. In the end, he gives all glory to God and thanksgiving for the Messiah who came to save the world from its sins.

I appreciated that from the first, Edersheim makes the book all about Jesus: “The Temple and its services form, so to speak, part of the life and work of Jesus Christ; part also of His teaching, and of that of His apostles. What connects itself so closely with Him must be of deepest interest” (5). This isn’t simply a dry academic exercise for Edersheim; it’s learning about his Savior, and sharing that knowledge. So the book is about Jesus even as it examines the Temple. (more…)

Exploring Oz

At the bank, the cash distributing machine is broken. Again. The tellers have to hand-count all the cash they distribute, and since my family does everything in cash… that means my teller is counting out a lot of cash. My Bride is the one who budgets for us (brilliantly, I might add!), which means I just withdrawal what she tells me to. And today, she didn’t give me a total. She simply listed to get so many twenties, so many tens, and so on.

My teller looks at the totals. He asks the teller next door, “Hey, how much is [this many] twenties?”

She answers.

We total everything up.

Yeah, that’s not right.

We do the math again and see that the answer had been $500 off. That’s… that’s a lot off, at least in my world.

We laugh. Thankfully, I’m not in a hurry.

And then the teller counts out the stack of cash… and gets it all right, first try. (This isn’t common in my experience!)

I tell him, “You have redeemed yourself in a non-theological manner!”

He laughs. “Yeah, cause otherwise it’d be self-righteousness!” (more…)