Friday, April 29, 2011

Naked Spirituality


I have mixed thoughts on this book. I wanted to read it for a few reasons.
  1. Brian McLaren seems to generate some controversy and I wanted to see for myself what all the hype was about.
  2. The subtitle had the words life and simple in it and that sounds honestly refreshing.
  3. The main title included the word naked. Sorry.
This book sold itself to me as something simple. At first I felt deceived. At first it seemed to me that something simple should not take so many words. It's simply complicated. Twelve simple words? That's like a sermon with 18 simple points.

It could be that Brian does not write it simply. Or I could just be a lot dumber than I thought. Either option is on the table. I'll let you decide.

But then I got past the introductory chapters. This may just be a me thing, but I prefer to see an author say what he's going to write about and then simply start writing about it. Because once I got into the heart of this book, I actually enjoyed it.

The premise is actually quite simple. Brian writes of 12 simple words that can help us focus through four seasons of life. The seasons are simplicity, complexity, perplexity and harmony. We may go through all of these seasons more than once and most will cycle through a few times. This is not intended to be a straight linear path. This is more proposed to be a winding circle as we go through the seasons of life.

Early on in the preface, Brian writes the following;
You won't find much in the way of aggressive arguments here, but rather a shy experience daring to step into the light. ... You won't need to agree with all the planks of my theological platform. I am a Christian, and all I write flows from my experience in that rich tradition, but you may be of another tradition entirely or of no known tradition at all.

Those couple of statements can be seen as both positive and negative. On the one hand, he clearly states he is a Christian. This is a good thing, because there are points that seem so muddled that I began to wonder. I had to repeatedly remind myself that we didn't have to agree on everything.

On the other hand, because Brian said this was not a book of theological arguments, it leaves him free to assume that we're all on the same page as far as how truth is interpreted. There are some obvious ways that he and I would differ in what we believe (which I will purposely avoid in this review for the sake of brevity). But there were times in which I had to seriously consider if his premise still held value considering the foundation of his points were shaky at best.

In the end, if you can look past where we would not agree and choose to look for what can be agreed upon, this book can be very much like sitting down with a friend over coffee and talking about how the two of you manage this thing we call life. I'd say that as long as you know what you believe, this book is worth the read.

I received this book from my great friends at The Ooze (http://theooze.com). They tell me to say something about the book, but not what to say. And so I do.

www.brianmclaren.net.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jumping to Conclusions

I was not happy, to say the least. My wife's words devastated me. What could she possibly mean? Was she trying to be hurtful or did she actually believe the words she was letting spill forth from her mouth?

We may need to get a new alarm clock.

I know, I know. I should have warned you so you could put the kids in another room to protect them from such filth. I'm sure you are feeling a bit woozy as I did when she uttered that despicable phrase.

I gently reminded her that this alarm clock had been with me since August of 1987. That was the summer my dad decided that my sister and I were old enough to be getting ourselves up in time for school. Here's a picture...

But I followed my wife, presumed guilty until proven otherwise, back to our bedroom to see what was wrong with this alarm clock. Sure enough, the numbers were not showing. I had a letter half-written to General Electric. Did this clock have a warranty? Would they be willing to replace it? Did anyone still believe in goo old-fashioned ethics like value and hard work? When we put our name on a product, that still stands for something, right?

After all, this alarm clock was only 24 years old. Wasn't I supposed to expect to be able to get my dad's money's worth out of this purchase? Or was this some kind of scheme where GE, and companies like her, allowed you to get only some use out of their products before having to spend more hard-earned cash on replacement products?

Where was the fairness in all of this? Will the hypocrisy never end?

Unwilling to give up, but still needing to be woken up the next morning, I started checking for other possible reasons why this alarm clock was no longer trustworthy. And that's when I discovered that the extension cord to which the alarm clock was plugged in was itself not plugged into the wall.

I plugged it in and those friendly red lights which I have come to cherish once again came on. Those lights which have told me innumerable times that sleep is no longer allowed for that day shone bright once more.

So, General Electric, I apologize for assuming the worst. And I thank you for restoring my trust in your products.

To my wife, we may one day look back and laugh at this moment. But it will not be soon. Oh no, it will not be soon.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Thin Line

Reading through the book of Leviticus is somewhat what I imagine listening to a full Justin Bieber album would be like. I can only imagine that, even given the opportunity, I would have to turn off Bieber’s music halfway through the first song. If I was told that God had something important to say to me through said pop idol’s music, I think I could will myself through it, but it would be difficult. Much like reading through the book of Leviticus.

But maybe I’d find something beneficial, which is exactly what I’m finding in what can’t possibly be Moses’ most-read book. Yet if you move past hour of endless fun in reading which parts of the sacrifices the priests are supposed to eat and which parts they are supposed to poke and wave, there are some really great offerings (pun intended).

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about Aaron’s sons offering a strange fire and God making an offering out of them with His own fire. Just as interesting as the ‘strange fire’ is the reaction of 3 main characters.

Let’s begin with Moses.

“Moses said to Aaron, "This is what God meant when he said, To the one who comes near me, I will show myself holy; Before all the people, I will show my glory." (Leviticus 10:3a, The Message).

That doesn’t sound like a lot of sympathy. There’s not even a nominal ‘sorry about your boys, bro.’ Moses then moves right on, getting Aaron’s remaining sons to step up and take their brother’s places. I suppose when you see God working, it’s best to tend to His business.

Secondly we have Aaron.

“Aaron was silent” (Leviticus 10:3b, The Message).

Caught between seeing a holy God’s actions and knowing he just lost two of his sons, Aaron probably chose what was best. When you see God working, it’s a bad idea to argue or change the focus.

Lastly we come to God’s first recorded words to Aaron after his sons died in God’s presence.

“God instructed Aaron: "When you enter the Tent of Meeting, don't drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons, lest you die. This is a fixed rule down through the generations. Distinguish between the holy and the common, between the ritually clean and unclean. Teach the People of Israel all the decrees that God has spoken to them through Moses" (Leviticus 10:8-11, The Message, emphasis added).

“Distinguish between the holy and the common.” When God is working, realize that this is not something ordinary. We need more people to see and know the difference between what men can do and what God is doing.

Everything about the Law, including the tedious-to-read parts, was about God. The focus should never change. We should never doubt it. We need to recognize His work.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Candid Confessions of An Imperfect Parent


When I listen to sports talk radio, I sometimes forget I don't like commercials and listen to a promo for adopting teenagers. The voice tells me that if I ruin the punch line of jokes, make runny eggs, or wear stripes with polka dots, I could make a great parent for a teenager who needs a family.

That's probably true, which means I must be a super parent because I tell great jokes, make great eggs and I can rock those polka dots and stripes like nobody's business.

But if you're looking for someone to be a bit more honest than I just was, you need to pick up a copy of Jonathan McKee's book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent. If you can see the cover you can see a plate with burnt toast on it. That plus the title gives you a decent idea of what you're in store for here.

There's no happy family with pasted on smiles to make you give up before you even read what Jonathan has to say. It's burnt toast, which has to be about the easiest thing to make...and the simplest to burn, if we're being honest.

And honest is what we see over and over again from Jonathan. From start to finish we get the idea that Jonathan and his wife are in the trenches, along with the rest of us, in this parenting adventure. In 10 easy to read chapters we get everything from building relationships to seeing those teenagers leave the home. Jonathan gives his opinion to you without apology and backs it up with plenty of stories and research.

Just like the title might suggest, those stories don't always end up with him winning, not even in the Charlie Sheen delusional fashion. He's not claiming a perfect style, in practice or philosophy, but he gives us all plenty of tools to figure out our best style.

For churches who are interested, this is a great tool for small groups or parenting classes. Each chapter ends with great discussion questions and chapter 8 even gives a great exercise for figuring out what kind of parent you wish to be. As I'm thinking ahead in my own ministry schedule, 10 chapters can easily fit into 1 chapter a week, making this something even the busiest parent can make time for. (Was that too much? Did it sound like a commercial? If I had more time, I'd have written a jingle...)

For the sake of full disclosure, I'll let you know I got this book from the man himself, Jonathan McKee. I agreed to blog but Jonathan did not use any coercive tactics to make me say anything. I may not have anything bad to say about the book, but that's just because it's a good book. (Enter music and voice over...Buy your copy today!)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Punishment and Privilege

I wasn't sure I had actually heard her correctly. My 9-year old, Jacie, in a serious mood, said, 'I think I should have stricter consequences. Time-outs don't really bother me.' (Pardon me while I get up off the floor.)

I'm actually going to skip on over any parenting thoughts today, but let it be noted that I realize punishments have to change as children grow older. Oh, and Jacie's consequences will be changing shortly.

This comment initially put me on the defensive. It's one thing for other parents to judge my parenting style, but to have your kids call you out seemed downright bizarre. After checking to make sure she wasn't using my fave style of communication, sarcasm, I checked to see if she had a fever. She had to be ill, because what child is going to actually say this out loud? Sure, maybe you think it, but never say it!

Then I started pondering it more. See, Jacie is a great kid. But she gets punished...frequently. So I wondered if the punishment wasn't the issue. Could it be that Jacie was not seeing the larger view? Was it possible that the other side of the coin, the privileges, were not being enjoyed enough?

The more I see my kids in action, the more I see human nature being played out before my very eyes. See, I like to think in broad strokes about life and its' implications. So I see Heaven on one side, the ultimate in great destinations. On the other side is Hell, the...well...opposite. Heaven, and God who lives there, is enough to cause me to live for Him. But if I, or anyone, needed more reason, Hell provides that.

Jacie said we need a better punishment. Perhaps she doesn't appreciate the treat. Perhaps she doesn't really appreciate the potential of the punishment. I think Christians are the same way. When it comes to evangelism, we don't act as if it's that big a deal. Why? Because the punishment doesn't seem real? Because the reward is too far away?

We sing words like 'Death, where is thy sting?' and 'Hell, where is thy victory?' But it doesn't actually mean anything to us. Because we don't really believe the potential of Hell. We say we do. But did we ever actually believe we were heading there? Too many romantic comedies have been watched, giving us the idea that everything works out in the end. It is when our predicament is fully realized that God's love and His grace begin to have true meaning.

As we move forward, celebrating Good Friday and Easter, I would encourage anyone out there reading this, to consider the punishment and the privilege. I can assure you that Jesus thought it through. He decided the punishment was worth the privilege.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. ~ Philippians 2:5-11


Friday, April 15, 2011

The Global Warming Deception


Ok, I've got a great idea for another book-turned-into-movie. I can even hear the voice-over in the preview.

We have survived war upon war. When the Nazi's attacked, they were defeated. When Communist Russia tried to take over the world, they were stopped. But now, we face a force that leaves them both looking like little toddlers who have just wet themselves. Prepare for....Global Warming!

The musical score alone would be moving. But sadly this is an real story that we have to deal with, no matter what you believe to be true. Grant R Jeffrey has written The Global Warming Deception: How a Scret Elite Plans to Bankrupt America and Steal Your Freedom.

For the sake of being totally upfront, let me say that I enjoy pondering about things like secret governments and cover-ups such as this. Having said that, I believe the book starts out a bit slow. Grant takes an extended introduction plus 3 chapters to really lay the foundation. I understand why he does it. If you are going to show there is a problem, you need to back up the claims. It just doesn't make for the most fascinating reading.

Here is the premise. Scientists are making up the effects of global warming as a means to scaring everyone into making rules that will cost a lot and essentially lead us into a socialist take-over. Sound far-fetched? Maybe, but Grant does a good job of referencing everything and slowly showing us how it could happen.

The fun, I think, begins in chapter 4, when the mud starts being flung. Here Grant asks 3 great climate-change questions.

  1. To what degree has the small measurable rise in global temperature been caused by the normal variation of the climate through natural processes? Conversely, how much is attributable to humanity's increased use of fossil fuels?

  2. How severe will the rise in global temperature be during the rest of this century?

  3. What reasonable political, social and economic policies should we pursue to deal with the consequences of a continued rise in global temperature over this century, if this should occur?
He then spends the rest of the book showing how scientists with an agenda skew the numbers to match what they want. Along the way he finds some fascinating quotes, like an 1895 New York Timesheadline warning of the coming Ice Age. (page 65) An entire chapter is used to show that Al Gore, besides not inventing the internet, also knows very little about global warming and what is actually true, at one point stating that the core of the Earth is 'several million degrees', when in actuality this would make the Earth a star and not a planet. (page 101-102)I think the most fun come sin chapter 8, when Grant points out that in all the testing for global temperatures and the causes, scientists fail to include the sun in their calculations. Without even going into all the scientific date that Grant provides, can I just ask, 'How do you get to be a scientist while thinking the sun has no effect on the temperatures of the Earth?' Maybe they skipped that day in science class.

Grant lays out the implications throughout the book, stating that a socialist view wants the rich and the poor to meet somewhere towards the poor end of living. So while this may or may not be what causes World War 3, it does have serious implications for all of us. And someone needs to be talking about it. This book is a good start.

This book was given to me for the purpose of review by my good friends at Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing. They old me to say something, but not what I had to say. Anything positive or negative is all me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Most Boring Book of the Bible?

I could have titled this post Why Leviticus is Awesome and Chapter 13 Alone Makes Me Think but that would have been really wordy.

The fact is that Leviticus can be a really difficult book to get through. But I am doing just that, slowly but surely. And chapter 13 is making me glad I am.

Here are my thoughts, in no particular order, as I read through this.

1. If the Old Testament ever takes over again, am I going to be forced to check out hairy moles on the people in my church? Or is that a job for the senior pastor? The Bible never mentions a 'youth priest'.

2. Weren't the priests busy enough with sacrifices? You know, the ones that involved sin.

3. Didn't the priests suffer enough? Now they have to double as medical professionals and check out infectious diseases.

4. How exactly do you examine an itch? And why would there be a black hair in it? But it gets worse... just read on...
40-44 "When a man loses his hair and goes bald, he is clean. If he loses his hair from his forehead, he is bald and he is clean. But if he has a reddish-white sore on scalp or forehead, it means a serious skin disease is breaking out. The priest is to examine it; if the swollen sore on his scalp or forehead is reddish-white like the appearance of the sore of a serious skin disease, he has a serious skin disease and is unclean. The priest has to pronounce him unclean because of the sore on his head.

45-46 "Any person with a serious skin disease must wear torn clothes, leave his hair loose and unbrushed, cover his upper lip, and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' As long as anyone has the sores, that one continues to be ritually unclean. That person must live alone; he or she must live outside the camp.

5. Isn't it bad enough that the guy has gone bald? Now he discovers he does not look good bald and he has to go around looking like a crazy hobo.

Quite frankly I find all of this disturbing. And I haven't even completely read Leviticus 14, when God tells Moses there will be times when He puts a 'serious fungus' inside a person's house. Guess what? The priest is involved there as well. I guess a pastor's job is never done.

And don't even get me started on Leviticus 15.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

First Day on the Job

If you've ever had a new job, then you'll understand the feelings that I am about to describe. I've been at my current job for 9 years, so it's been a while, but I remember that new-job smell. I can recall being slightly nervous, whether it was my first ministry job or the first day working at a Dollar General. (Yes, I did that.)

Because of the new-ness of it all, I was always on my best behavior. Not that I have any other kind of behavior. My best listening skills came out as I learned the duties and schedules of my new job. I was always very aware of how I was treating people and doubly aware of the supervisor watching my actions. I believe I'm the type of person that continues to work hard, but being a super-worker seems to be the natural way to start out at a job. Ask questions before trying anything strange with a new employer. Always perform the task in the way it was taught.

But apparently not everyone thinks this way. In Leviticus, quickly becoming a fascinating read for me, we read about God giving Moses and Aaron the run-down of the priestly duties. (Think first-day do's and dont's.)

In Leviticus 9 the priests go to work, performing sacrifices just as God commanded. But then something strange, literally, happens. (At least, as literally as the Message Version states it.) Aaron's son's, Nadab and Abihu, offered a 'strange' fire to God, something God had not commanded to be offered. God, in turn, consumed the boys and they died. One would think they would have waited until at least the second week of work to do something like that. Silly boys!

Ok, first of all, I get why God consumed them with fire. God is holy and this was among the first steps He was taking with His people. God needs the people to know that He means what He says. It's kind of like when I tell my children to listen the first time I say something. Our actions have consequences.

But, secondly, it makes me wonder if we offer 'strange' fire to God. Is this the kind of thing Jesus was referring to when He talked about the Pharisees tithing everything they owned, but neglecting justice? Clearly these religious teachers were just wanting to appear holy, without actually being holy.

Are we guilty of the same? Are there little things that I do 'religiously' that God has not asked for? Am I concerned with aspects of my life that need more attention than the things I spend my time on? Does this mean I shouldn't be saving every church bulletin from every church service I have ever been to? But what if I've categorized them by sermon topic and cross referenced them by number of hymns sung?

What if, in our own post-modern fashion, we've begun to perform many seemingly good tasks that are just 'strange' fire to God? Are we prepared for the consequences to consume us? Are we more consumed with looking like we love Jesus, or actually loving Jesus?

Monday, April 11, 2011

My Insignificant Blogging Guidelines

So I've been thinking quite a bit lately about organizing my blogging schedule. I've tried to start following a pattern, whether that has been noticed or not. But for anyone who wants to know what's going on in my head (scary, I know) this is what I'm attempting to do.

Tuesdays
- This is the day I'm going to take a personal look at some recent Bible reading I've done. I'll attempt a real-world application.

Thursdays - It'll be somewhat the same as Tuesdays, except I'm making no promises on application. If I find it interesting, I'll post about it and hope you find it interesting as well.

Fridays
- Book reviews. Not every Friday, but when I have one to post, it'll be here. That way you can take your paycheck and purchase the book I'm raving about before you spend it all on pesky things like rent and food.

I thought about posting random things I run across on the world wide web, but if you want to follow my randomness, you can connect with me on Twitter (@rick_nier) or Facebook. Facebook is easy to find me. Just don't type Woo. There it is, my attempt at organization. Thanks for reading and never wary about letting me know what you think.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lip-Syncing Worship

It's not that I expected my children to be clones of their mother and I. But my two little girls are as beautiful as my wife. But it's a little too soon to know if my son will be a triple-threat guy like me. But I was a bit surprised to hear our older two, both in elementary school, complaining about music class.

Our house is always full of music. My wife and I love to sing. And around the house the children can usually be heard singing a tune, when they're not beating each other with a sharp stick. But days that have music class are not looked forward to.

I guess it makes sense. How often can you sing about wheels on a bus? We teach them about farmers, bed-jumping monkeys, sheep and how to touch their heads and shoulders, their knees and toes. It can get a little old. But my son has it figured out. He told me he just moves his mouth to make it look like he's singing. Then he showed me. I'm sure his music teacher doesn't have a clue. That is, as long as she's blind, she doesn't have a clue.

I told my kids they reminded me of Milli Vanilli. They asked who that was. I could just blame it on the rain, but apparently I'm getting older. I should have told them it was like singers who auto-tune.

Seeing further implications, I asked about the songs we sing on Sunday. 'Nope', he said, 'I just lip-sync those as well.'

Sigh.

Sadly we see this in people everywhere today. Their lips are moving, their heads are nodding in agreement and their feet are bringing them into church, but that's where it ends. It's all a show. Jesus condemned the show in Matthew 23:23-29.

He starts out a bit mildly when talking about how the religious leaders go through the motions of giving. The problem is that it's more habit than worship. But then Jesus paints two vivid pictures showing how the Pharisees really look like they are worshiping God on the outside. In all actuality Jesus calls them out for not loving God with their hearts.

They are dirty cups. They are like well manicured grave sites. It looks nice, but it doesn't change the fact that there's a dead body inside. The same can be said for us if we are only outward actions with an unchanged heart. It should be mentioned that Jesus didn't think kindly towards the people who acted this way. He used words like hypocrites, snakes and wicked. There's a reason for that.

They are lip-syncing their way through worship.