Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Simple Way

We worry about a lot of things that we can't know about. I can remember, back in high school, spending countless hours talking with my friends about aliens and space and God's will. It was stuff that was too lofty for us (Job 42:3). But if the conversation turned towards living out our faith, practical living stuff that we could figure out, suddenly I wasn't as interested.

Did God allow aliens to abduct the dinosaurs? I don’t know, but let’s discuss that for hours.

What practical steps can I take this week to grow in my faith? I don’t know, who wants to watch a movie?

My days since high school have changed my interests a bit. Now I worry less about Bigfoot and Loch Ness and more about developing godly habits (both for me and the people I work with). That’s why I instantly liked how Moses concluded things in Deuteronomy.

Towards the end, after reviewing the entire Law with the Israelites, Moses offers this;

God, our God, will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business. It's up to us and our children to attend to all the terms in this Revelation. Deuteronomy 29:29

Deuteronomy 30 goes into detail about this revealed portion. Moses talks about how simple all of this really is. It's not exactly rocket science. Moses, even with his low opinion of the Israelites (see Deuteronomy 31:27-29), believed that they could grasp these concepts that he was presenting.

Look at what I've done for you today: I've placed in front of you
Life and Good
Death and Evil.
Deuteronomy 30:15

And as much as our progressive culture tries to muddy the waters of Truth, even we are hard-pressed to complicate this process. Blessings are good. Curses are bad. Loving God is the goal. Loving our neighbor is a command.

If everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten, then everything we need to know about God is also quite elementary. God is good and we should love him with everything we have. It’s that simple.

God will take care of the many things that are too wonderful for us to know. We can discuss it round and round and wonder our time away. But the revealed things are our business.

I'm in the business of making sure the revealed things are being followed. And business is good!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Kissing Fish

I think I might have liked this book more if...

No, I'm not sure anything could make me like this book. Roger Wolsey has written a book called Kissing Fish; Christianity for People who Don't Like Christianity. Granted, I like Christianity, so that was probably one strike against it from the start. Perhaps if it had read less defensively it might have helped.

On the one hand, I get it. In order to clarify what something is, you oftentimes have to contrast it with something else that people are very familiar with. In this case, that would be conservative Christianity, although it more often felt like Roger was attacking the Christians, not the Christianity. It is hard to separate the two, but I felt part of what was missing was asking what conservative Christianity would look like if it were lived out correctly. But who has time for details?

On the other hand, if you are trying to attract followers, perhaps sounding like the smart kid who has everything figured out while at the same time condemning everyone in the opposing viewpoint as unintelligent and guarded against truth is probably not the best way to go.

Roger did a good job of breaking down the chapters. He neatly sections off subjects like God, Jesus and Salvation. He does a good job of stating conservative Christianity's view, albeit in a way that shows his criticism before he even gets to his criticism.

I couldn't shake the feeling that this was less a book to introduce people to a new brand of Christianity, one Roger calls progressive, and more like an attack on every bad thing Roger sees in conservative Christianity. This would include the theological teaching and his second grade Sunday School teacher sneering at him. (Note: I have no idea what his second grade Sunday School teacher did or didn't do.)

The complications in this book would be too many to list here. From how we view God and how He operates to how (or if) we acknowledge sin, our disagreements would be many. In its most basic sense, I find it difficult to see how progressive Christians hold anything to be true, since so much of the interpretation of Scripture is seen as up to the individual. Although even saying that would seem to be the start of a circle, since the progressive Christian would argue that conservative Christians hold too literally to the Bible.

It's enough to make this blog's head spin. It would make a much better conversation and debate than it does a blog post. Alas, some other time.

I received this ebook from Mike Morrell and my friends at SpeakEasy. They don't make me write a positive review, which was really helpful in this case.

Should you choose to want to know more of what goes on in the mind of someone calling themselves a progressive Christian, check out the links below.

Roger's helpful companion site: http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/

Roger on Twitter: @RogerWolsey

Roger’s column in Elephant Journal: http://www.elephantjournal.com/author/roger-wolsey/

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Delivering Bad News

I have to confess something. There are times when I want to tell the truth. Yes, shocking, I know. You might imagine that it's just the pastor in me that makes this honesty want to burst out of me like a song on Glee, but it's not that at all.

Alas, that is not it. It's not the sugary-sweet honesty that I want to tell. The type of honesty I'm talking about is the kind that will possibly offend, or at least sting for a few days. It's more than just letting you know that something is stuck in your teeth or that your hair looks like Justn Bieber's.

It's truth's truth and many times it hurts. But there are some ways to deliver truth that apparently make it easier. I say 'apparently' because they are found in the Bible.

It's Deuteronomy 31 and Moses isn't going to last much longer. So he decides it's the season of Festivus and it's time for the airing of grievances. He tells the Israelites about what could happen if they disobey God while living in the Promised Land. Except that he paints it as all but done.

Granted, Moses was right. The people were stubborn and they would turn on God. But could you imagine our president standing before us and admitting there was no chance whatsoever that we would ever pay off our debt?

Moses tells the Israelites how pig-headed they are and then decides to put it all to a song. That's right, a song. Apparently having your failures sung to you make sit sound better. Was this B.C.-emo-rock?

Just imagine having a song dedicated to you with such lyrics as;
They are corrupt and not his children; to their shame they are
a warped and crooked generation. Deuteronomy 32:5

“I will heap calamities on them and spend my arrows
against them.
I will send wasting famine against them,
consuming pestilence and deadly plague;
I will send against them the
fangs of wild beasts, the venom of vipers that glide in the
dust. Deuteronomy 32:23-24

They are a nation without sense. Deuteronomy 32:28

Maybe the only lesson here is that if you want to drop some bad news on someone, it's better to do it in song. Ok, your turn. What would be the worst lyrics to have sung to you?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Just Keep Quiet

Have you ever had someone just stare at you without saying anything? It gives me the creeps. I want to know what is going through their head. I want them to speak up. The silence weirds me out. So, like many people, I fill the silence with my own noise.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Just after crossing the Jordan, the Israelites are poised to attack Jericho. Perhaps you know about their singing to bring down the walls. Yeah, that's pretty epic on God's part. But what comes before that would make you uncomfortable.

As the entire army marches around the city walls for 7 days, they are given these orders.
“Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” Joshua 6:10

Imagine you are a citizen of Jericho and you see an entire army marching around your city walls. Only they aren't saying anything. They are marching in complete silence. Creeeepy!

Awkward as it might be, I imagine God might be giving the same orders to us today. In James 1:19 we're instructed to be "slow to speak." So how about it? Perhaps we should just keep quiet and wait for God to command the shout.

I'd say more about this, but on a topic like this, perhaps I've already said too much.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ministry By Teenagers

Youth Ministry. It's kind of a funny term when you consider it. Is it ministry to the teenage crowd or ministry by the teenage crowd?
Modern youth ministry seems to have started when some cool hippie started some fires and gathered teens around it to sing Kumbaya. To hear Greg Steir, president of Dare 2 Share Ministries, talk about it, Jesus was the first youth pastor, since most of the disciples were teenagers.

As the lights have gotten brighter and the technology cooler, there is still an ongoing debate about how youth ministry is accomplished. As the offerings for educating youth pastors increases, the expectation of being professional rises. Although, how professional can we seem when Chubby Bunny is still an approved game? But I must admit that the last time I was with some of my church leaders, I did tell them that youth pastors are like specialists, much like podiatrists, dentists, and pediatrists are considered specialists. And since they make more money than general practitioners, logically, youth pastors should get paid more than senior pastors. (In case you're wondering, they didn't buy it.)

All of this debate aside, I think I have to agree with Jonathan McKee and David Smith in their book, Ministry By Teenagers; Developing Leaders From Within. Most of our jobs should be training teenagers on the how and why of serving. And it's not just giving them to-do lists. It's instilling in them the passion for why ministry is important.

Reading a book by McKee (this is not my first) is like sitting down to a ministry roundtable discussion. Of course, since it's a book, he does all the talking. But even in this format, he encourages discussion through questions and even offers a few exercises while you put the book down. This book is co-authored by David Smith, another regular from The Source For Youth Ministry, and nothing is lost. Both do a great job of providing examples for every truth they wish to convey.

Ministry By Teenagers offers it all, from the purpose to training teenagers to handling the pitfalls that come once you have started training them. I tend to fold over pages so I can more quickly find things that I want to revisit and my copy now has plenty of pages folded over.

Training teens isn't something new to me, so I found I was able to plug-n-play some of the help right away, while other stuff will have to wait for me to implement. They even include a planned out retreat in the appendix. I have a feeling I will be referring to this book over and again for quite some time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How Big Do You Think You Are?

Last Friday, as a way of celebrating one last night of freedom before school started, my wife decided we no longer needed comfort. So we went way out...to our back yard and set up the tent. The kids loved the idea. I brought my laptop.

I was checking the weather to see if we needed to put the cover up on our tent when I found that a meteor shower was expected. I looked up and saw a lot of clouds. But the children looked anyway for meteors that we wouldn't see. It led us to talk about space, a favorite topic of mine.

I used the laptop to search pictures of space. I stumbled upon pictures of the size of Earth, like this one to the left. This was no big deal, as they've seen pictures of Earth before. But then I showed them this one.
Now I had them intrigued. Those other planets seemed awfully larger than Earth. How could this be? Shouldn't we be the largest? Why would God make other planets larger?

Without going fully into 3-point-pastor mode, I simply shared that we often forget just how tiny we are on this spinning ball. Then I showed them this next picture. In case you can't see it, that big orange ball is the big orange ball you see everyday when you wake up. It's big. Real big.

This led to a science class lesson on how the sun is a star. We talked about how far away the other stars are and why we only see them at night. I think I fooled my children into believing I know a lot. But then I blew their minds and showed them these two last pictures.

The picture to the left is of a few different stars,showing our Sun to actually be a small star. This isn't even comparing it to some of the really large stars out there.

The second picture is of some of the most distant galaxies as seen by our Hubble Telescope.

This led to me explaining that we are just one planet within a solar system, just one solar system within a galaxy and just one galaxy within the universe. Oh, and that universe is continually expanding. At this point my son's head just exploded.

We continued to have a really cool conversation as we sat out under the cloudy sky. It left us all with one very large feeling; we are very small. Yet God loves us. Then, since the laptop still had battery life left, we watched an episode of Veggie Tales.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Core Realities of Youth Ministry

I'm going back for this book review. In 2003 Mike Yaconelli wrote a book called The Core Realities of Youth Ministry. I had just come from a National Youth Workers Convention, where Mike hosted. I bought a copy of this book, as well as his Dangerous Wonder. I ate them both up and still think they are great.

That's why I was greatly discouraged when I went this last spring to find my copy of The Core Realities. I looked at home. I looked at my office. I went around accusing people of stealing it. Nothing. It was nowhere.

Figuring I would find my original once I purchased a new copy, I took the plunge. I bought it because my original copy had my notes written in the sides. I bought it because I had used it 7 years ago to add to my teaching of core values and I wanted to revisit that topic. (That's not to say I haven't talked about core values in 7 years....)

I believe Mike has written a powerful gem that every youth pastor should be required to read. I think that much of it is translatable directly to teaching with teens. The core realities are veracity, authenticity, audacity, humility, diversity, sanctuary, intimacy, mystery and creativity. This makes for a very diverse summer of discussion with any youth group.

Mike writes each chapter in a very relational way, as he shares part of his story. He also shares the space with many other youth ministry voices as they chime in with sidebars.

I highly recommend this book. It's older, so a inexpensive copy can be found quite easily. But if anyone has seen my original copy, let me know. I'm still looking for it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Core Training

I’ve been discussing core values of youth ministry this summer with my youth. At the beginning of the summer I used the picture of Core Training. The picture in my head was one of exercise and training. The exercise gurus will talk about having a strong core, referring to the area around your mid-section and back. I’m told that many injuries can be avoided if you have strong core muscles.

In fact, I have been doing some core training physically this summer with my wife. She found a workout video that is supposed to work out everything at the same time and leave you feeling ripped. We’ve been waking up at 6am 3-4 times a week this summer to do these videos. I don’t wake up at 6am because I want to. I don’t do so because it feels good. I do it because I am rules oriented. I need the exercise and this is the only time it will happen. I want strong core muscles. So I follow the ‘rules’. I exercise and try to watch what I eat if by that you mean showing my kids how many more cookies i can eat than them. The ‘rules’ say that if I do these 2 things, I will be in good shape.

But Core Training for spiritual reasons is totally different. Imagine that I talked the same way about spiritual training. ‘I wake up at 6am 3-4 times a week with Jesus and we work on my spiritual muscles; faith, hope, love. I don’t wake up at 6am because I want to. I don’t do so because it feels good. I do it because I am rules oriented. I need the exercise and this is the only time it will happen.’

Will this type of attitude please God? Faith is more heart knowledge than head knowledge. But often times, we see head knowledge taking the lead as we learn what is right and wrong for Christians. As humans, we’re very good about following rules, or at least pointing out when others don’t follow rules.

But God is more concerned with our hearts. That’s why Jesus said to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Matthew 22:37). It is also why Isaiah prophesied “these people…honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13). God desires to have right action. But He is really more concerned with right motive. I’m not throwing out the rules. I am saying that you should be more concerned with loving God, truly loving God. Loving God involves getting to know Him.

I am re-reading a book by Mike Yaconelli called The Core Realities of Youth Ministry (more on this book tomorrow). In the book, Mike is talking about the value of intimacy and asks us to imagine a married couple. Imagine that they had a great wedding day, but after that they stopped doing anything together. When anyone questions them about their relationship, they just point out their wedding pictures and say that is how they know they have a good relationship. Would we say they had a strong marriage?

We do the same thing spiritually. So many people come to Jesus and have a conversion experience. But then they don’t spend any time with Jesus. When anyone questions them about their relationship with God, they point back to a time when they were 5 or 6 or 12 and say that is proof they are a Christian. But would we say they have a strong relationship with God?

How do you know you've been close with God recently?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Comes Out of Your Nose?

If you are just happening upon my blog for the first time, I would encourage you to read another post of mine first. I'm not sure this is how I want my first impression to be. Then again, it's not really about me, is it?

I have had some funky stuff in my nose recently. I'm fairly sure it's all of the phlegm and booger variety, but I've had more than my fair share. If this were winter and I was consistently cold, I would understand. But we're experiencing a summer's summer. So it's not the weather.I suppose I could blame allergens in the air, which do seem to hit around this time of year. I'd much prefer to blame the new fur-balls that have invaded my living space, two little kittens that my kids refuse to leave alone until they hide behind the washing machine. The kittens hide, not the children.

Regardless, I've used a winter's worth of tissues in the past month and I can't seem to figure it out. Knowing it could be worse, I shouldn't complain. After all, it's not like it's meat coming out of my nose.

What's that? You've never heard of that? Sure, we've all seen someone laugh so hard that milk or soda comes out of their nose. That stings a bit. But meat? Oh yes indeed!

Flip in your Bibles to the under-appreciated book of Numbers and you will find the Israelites roaming the desert. While there, they find stuff to complain about. They are tired of the miracle manna that falls from the ground each day from Heaven.

'Thanks God for providing for my every need.'
'Thanks God that all I have to do is go out a grab food...without farming.'

I feel soooo bad for them, just like I do when my own kids complain after having done nothing to prepare a meal. The picture is actually quite pathetic. Numbers 11:10 tells us that Moses finds people from every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. What are they whining about? 'We want meat. Meat!'

It reminds me of my son, when he was 5. We bought mint toothpaste because he said he would use it. When we got home he wailed because he thought we said it was meat flavored toothpaste. Yum, because who doesn't want more bacon flavor while cleaning their teeth?

While I can't give my son what he wants, the Lord gave the Israelites meat. But God didn't just give them a little. He gave them meat for a whole month.

You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” ~Numbers 11:19-20

Anything that comes out of my nose is not going to be high on my list of things to put in my mouth. That's a general rule I live by. I won't judge you if you don't have the same rule.

I think the bigger picture here is remembering what we're crying about when we complain. The Israelites had a hankering for meat, but it was really a distrust in God as their Provider.

So what are you having trouble trusting in God for recently?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dinner with a Perfect Stranger

I recently read Dinner with a Perfect Stranger by David Gregory. I initially picked it up because it sounded like a B-movie my wife once told me about. The actor called the actress by her real name. She laughe slightly, corrected him and they moved on with the scene. Apparently it was low budget or the director was sleeping. Maybe both.

Either way, this book is not based on that movie...thankfully.

This small book is as unassuming as the invitation it is based on. Businessman Nick Cominsky receives an invitation from none other than God. And apparently God likes Italian food because they meet at a pricy Italian restaurant, where God is on a first name basis with all the help staff. Not because He is God, mind you, just because He is friendly.

I had read a review on this book before reading the book. That can be dangerous, I know, but it's not lke Rob Bell wrote the book or the review. The review compared this book to The Shack, which I have also read.

If hearing it compared with The Shack really makes you want to read it or not, then forget you ever heard that. It's not The Shack, which is not to say it's either good or bad. It's just different. Yes, a guy meets with God and has a pretty in-depth conversation, but that's where I'd stop comparing.

What David Gregory has written here is an introductory course in apologetics with a splash of a New Believer's Sunday School class. It's all done in a conversational manner and Jesus (playing the part of God) comes off as reasonable and, more importantly, right.

I have a second copy to give away, which I let my wife read first, while I was reading my copy. If you want the woman's perspective here it is. When I read farther along than she had, she asked me if the whole book was discussing religion. She asked it in that way that told me she was hoping it didn't. The answer to that question is 'no'. (Disclaimer: My wife still likes the book, although I may have lost a few points including her in this post.)

I think the book could be a good example of how our conversations with people could be, even if they are not convinced about God like we are. There's no silly making-everything-in life-ok ending, which would make this book a chick flick. It ends with Jesus giving an invitation, which is what He's been doing for a long time now.

I received this book for review from my good friends at Waterbrook Multnomah. You can purchase a copy here. Or you can comment on my blog and I will pick a name out of the hat. The hat will contain the names of everyone who comments. But because I don't have a lot of extra postage cash right now, I'm going to limit this to US residents only. Thanks. I'll draw a name by next Wednesday.

If you're looking for even more information on this book, follow the links below.