Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: Churched - One Kid's Journey toward God Despite a Holy Mess

Matthew Paul turner takes us on a wonderful joyous and poignant trip through the aisles and behind the pulpit of the church that so many of us remember from our childhood. The church that tried so hard to do everything right, and according to its own set of standards probably did a great job. Every ‘T’ was crossed, every ‘I’ was dotted, but somehow they didn’t quite realize the goal of bringing people closer to the God they claimed had pre-eminence.

The rules were all in place to celebrate the Living God, everyone knew the rules, but as so often happens people caught up in the religiosity of the moment and forgot why they were really there. When we worry about all the rules we forget that Jesus told us to not worry, but instead to take a lesson from the birds of the air, and the lilies of the fields.

We try so hard to do it right, and so often it turns out wrong, but God overlooks our ignorance and showers us with grace, grace to keep on trying, grace to finally realize that when God asks us to obey, He’s asking us to follow where he leads, not show up on Sunday morning and evening, and again on Wednesday night, wearing the right clothes, having the right haircut, quoting the right translation of the bible, and staying the appropriate distance from members of the opposite sex.

And as Turner shows us in this book, God even gives us enough grace to laugh at ourselves. Sometimes He even gives us enough grace to uncross a ‘T’ or un-dot an ‘I’.

Regardless of the church you grew up in, or are currently attending, sometimes it’s important to get past the religiosity in order to appreciate the fact that Jesus is sitting next to you, trying to get your attention.

Four stars for Churched - One Kid's Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess  Waterbrook Press, 2008,  ISBN 978-0-307-45801-8

When it Helps to Hurt

I’ve been thinking about pain lately, not because I enjoy it, but because I’ve been experiencing it – a lot. It’s nothing I haven’t felt before, and it’s nothing unexpected, in fact a doctor told me a couple of years ago to expect the pain more frequently and at higher levels. And here it is. I don’t like it and it doesn’t do much for me, but in those moments when it’s hard to move, I get to think about things that otherwise get pushed aside. And sometimes if I think hard enough, it’s enough to make me forget the pain, at least until I try to move again.

Sometimes it’s obvious that the pain is for a good reason, and so we suck it up: some of the stuff the dentist does hurts, but it solves a much bigger problem (and if I wasn’t such a wimp about needles, I wouldn’t even have to experience a lot of that preventative pain). My chiropractor works me over pretty good, and the next day I’m sore; but he’s usually taking care of a bigger problem and a greater pain. I really don’t like needles, but even that little stick means something going into my body to either prevent or treat something a whole lot worse than the fleeting sting of a needle.

Exercise, which I faithfully start doing every few weeks for a day or two, leaves me sore the day after, but exercise is good for me. Or so they say.

And sometimes even the worst pain is a good thing because it alerts us to the fact that there is something wrong, something happening to our bodies that shouldn’t be happening, something that requires medical assistance –NOW!

And then I got thinking that maybe spiritual pain has the same benefits as physical pain.

Sometimes the things that seem to be bothering me are fairly minor, more of an inconvenience than anything else, and other times they hurt big-time. But I’ve come to realize that quite often this is God, giving me a shot to prevent some major pain, or kneading me, chiropractic style to work out some of the problems that I’ve brought on myself. In rubbing out a major long lasting problem, He’s causing some temporary curative pain. As the toxins leave the body, there is often pain involved, but I end up much better off than I was before.

Sometimes the pain is not the problem but a symptom that leads me to get help. It’s funny how in Christianese, we call God the Great Physician, but when we’re suffering and He could provide the healing that we need, instead of turning to Him, running to Him, we want to try every quack, charlatan and snake oil salesman on the planet first. God has the answers if I’ll turn to Him and ask for it, and, oh yeah, the hard part, listen to what He says and then do what He says.

So I’ve come to decide that pain is a funny sort of thing…. I don’t like it, but it’s amazing how helpful it can be. And when it comes to spiritual pain, I’m trying to remember that I need to turn to God at the first sign of pain, as the first step, rather than as a last resort.

How about you? How bad does it have to get before you’re willing to turn to God for help?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: SOAR by Kenny Luck

SOAR by Kenny Luck is a book for and about men. Along the way we read some things that we don’t want to hear; and along the way we read some things that we need to hear. It’s a book about the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and sometimes the Spirit is working long before we realize that He’s there.

Pastor Luck is president of Every Man Ministries, and this book really is about every man. The men who haven’t discovered the Spirit yet, and the prayer that they will come to know Jesus; the men who have recently discovered the Holy Spirit at work, and the prayer that they will grow; the men who are devoted Christ followers and the prayer that they will persevere.

Luck invites us to examine our faithfulness which he describes as the only character strong enough to defeat our moods or feelings in our moments of crisis or testing. It is the one thing required when we meet a command or priority of God and don’t want to do it. Yes, he reminds us, sometimes even God's men don’t want to follow God's will, but faithfulness allows us to answer God's call even when the World says ‘no’.

We are also reminded that we may not see many big opportunities to help others, but the smaller opportunities are found at every corner, if we just open our eyes to them.

This book is easy to read, and does contain some nuggets of information on recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit in every man’s life, but it’s a little to ‘general’ for my taste. It’s a basic christianese book: a quotation from a Christian writer at the beginning of each chapter, plenty of scripture references, throughout and a prayer to close each chapter.

Pastor Luck works with the Men’s ministry at a very seeker friendly church, so the seekers among us would probably find this helpful, (and if I had read the first three books in the series, I might have been better able to engage).

Overall I think it’s too ‘churchy’ to appeal to the general public and not deep enough to appeal to the average member of the small churches scattered across America.

I give it a '3' out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review " My 30 days Under the Overpass"

I normally don’t like ‘devotional books’, but because I so thoroughly enjoyed Under the Overpass, I bought this book, and was pleasantly surprised. With the same engaging style as in the book, Yankoski manages to make us think, and then when we’re in the frame of mind to do something about what God has put on our hearts, he asks the questions that should lead us to an idea of what we can do. By the way, what we can do for the hungry and homeless doesn’t always involve money, and sometimes the fact that you’re willing to show you care by giving of your time means as much or more than a $20.00 bill.

After each week of daily devotions, there is an opportunity to reflect in writing on some of the simple questions that we might have been asking all along.

This book isn’t quite as powerful as the book it’s based on, but it still is one of those books that makes you think, and forces you to toss away some of the pre-conceived ideas and baggage that might come to mind when you see a homeless person, or a beggar on the street.

I wasn't paid for reviewing this book.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

When 'we' become 'them' -a review of Under the Overpass

I rated this book a five, because that’s the highest rating allowed by the system.

I first read Mike Yankowski’s Under the Overpass several years ago. I lent it to a friend who passed it on to a friend who lent it to someone else, and finally I got the book back six months later. Since then I’ve bought several copies to lend or give.

Two very brave, very foolish or very committed and convicted, (take your pick) young men spend a year living Under the Overpass. They choose to live as homeless people for a year, to experience what an unfortunately large percentage of our society lives on a regular basis. Their experiences living on the street brought me to tears. It wasn’t only the conditions in which they lived, but the reactions of people who should have known better.

This book forced me to look at myself and how I perceive others, and the reflection in the mirror wasn’t as pretty as I would have liked.

If you’re ready to be challenged and convicted, this is the book to read. And don’t be surprised if this “journey of faith on the streets of America” causes you to re-evaluate your own faith walk.

Read this Book Before You Leave The Church

Michael Spencer does in Mere Churchiantiy what many others have done and are doing as they try to break the code for why people are leaving “the Church’ in droves. With an enjoyable writing style, with a tongue in cheek attitude, and just the right amount of satire and irony, Spencer reminds his readers that through the centuries the Gospel message has been ‘dummied down’ to the point that if Jesus were to attend most churches today, he wouldn’t recognize most of what they were talking about.

No wonder so many people who are looking for Jesus stop going to church and start looking in other places. Places where they can connect with the Jesus of the gospels; places where they can read and engage with scripture to discover what it’s speaking into their lives. Places where they can expect to experience transformation of the kind the apostles wrote about in their letters to the Christians of the 1st century. Places that encourage servant Christianity.

Thought provoking questions and comments ask us to stop being a ‘fan’ of Christianity and start being a ‘player’. To learn the difference between being a fan of Jesus and being one of His disciples.

At first glance it might seem like leaving the church in search of authentic Jesus type Spirituality is the right thing to do, but I think the internetmonk would be more in favor of churches inviting Jesus back into their midst, allowing him to be the Head of the church, instead of ignoring His presence as we do church.

Instead of doing church, try being the Church. You might be surprised to meet Jesus along the way.

“I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review”.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How about a little respect?

Super Bowl Sunday...empty churches and friends gathered around the TV. Way to go America! (Actually we had a good crowd at our church today - thanks FBC/NBCC for caring more about God than a bunch of large men in their distinctively colored costumes.)
 We're not big football fans, so we decided to go home after church, have lunch, get some rest, and go grocery shopping after the big game started. (It's not just churches that see a decline in attendance on the afternoon of SB forty whatever it is. What I like best about the big game is nobody in line for the cash registers.)

I'm not interested in football, my wife is not interested in football, but somehow we managed to create a monster: a teenager that DOES like football. (Patriots, if you care, but since they're not playing this year, he likes the Packers: Go Pack!)

He had the TV on when I went to tell him we were leaving. The National Anthem was being sung. And I was disappointed. I'm used to protocol when the Star Spangled Banner is sung. The announcer asks the audience to stand, sometimes he even tell you to take off your hat and put your hand over your heart. People know that they are supposed to stand still, face the flag, and show respect. Less than two minutes and then they can get on with the ball game.

Whoever was working the cameras had a great opportunity to show that Americans are proud of their country, of their flag, and that even in rough economic times that we have some respect. They did show, briefly, a military unit, ready for the game, watching from their station in Afghanistan.  But where were the people standing at attention, standing still, hands over their hearts, facing the flag?

I saw a bunch of people dancing around, mugging it up for the cameras, showing a total lack of resepct. And I'm disappointed with the media for giving the clowns face time. A lot of people around the world watch the Super Bowl, and what they learn is that we don't have to show respect, for our flag, our country, even ourselves.

Sure we can blame it on the less than stellar rendition of the National Anthem. Someone posted that people lost their poise as they tried to figure out what was being sung; but the tune is disctinctive and most of us don't know all the words anyway, so that's probably not the case.

There are airmen, soldiers, sailors and marines stationed at places far from home today, stationed all around the world, who are risking their lives to keep our country free. Saluting the flag, standing for the Anthem, saying the pledge of allegiance are little ways that we can tell them how much we appreciate their efforts.

America, it may not be perfect, but it's what we have. It's up to us to make it better. And showing respect is a good place to start.

Do you stand for the National Anthem?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

put on your coat

This morning as I was driving Nolan to school, I saw a couple of people waiting for the bus. They were shivering - hugging themselves trying to stay warm. It was a brisk 11 degrees, and I really wanted to feel sorry for them. Really.

No, what I really wanted to do was stop and ask them 'really?' I wanted to ask how cold it would have to be before they put their coats on.  I wanted to be a parent and ask if they were trying to catch pneumonia. They appeared to be of an age to be in High School, they were nicely dressed, and if it happened to be a balmy day in April, they would have been appropriately dressed for the weather. But it's not balmy April, it's arctic February. And I wanted to ask them what they were thinking and tell them to put on a coat.

And I should be used to it by now, for 16 years I've watched kids wearing shorts, t-shirts, and sandals during Utah winters. I wonder how they stand it, but then who am I to question? After all, I do Polar Bear Plunges. At least they're staying dry.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Thinking About Health Care

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the recently enacted comprehensive health care reform bill or whatever it’s called. The most recent news is that a federal judge has ruled a part of the bill unconstitutional – that part being the requirement that everyone buy health care insurance.

In theory, and at first glance, mandatory health insurance might seem like a good idea; after all, most doctors, physician groups, and hospitals provide the services that they do with the aim of making money. If everyone has health insurance then doctors, clinics and hospitals have a better chance of getting paid.

But our current laws say that sick people have to be treated regardless of ability to pay. I agree that we should show compassion, and sick people should be cared for. But lately a lot of those businesses that provide the care have found it necessary to shut their doors because they can no longer afford to provide services without getting paid. People without insurance might use local emergency rooms for non-life-threatening reasons, and those charges often have to be written off. At some point it doesn’t make sense for for-profit organizations to continue operating at a loss, and so they go out of business, and no one receives the needed care.

There may be a few cold-hearted people out there who would be comfortable with telling someone that there is no medical care available until they show proof of insurance or ability to pay. That wouldn’t be me.

Maybe we could ask people who don’t want to buy health insurance to sign a statement agreeing to not get a disease or have medical problems that cost more than they can afford. Or we could ask them to waive their right to future medical care in lieu of having insurance.

Maybe we could raise taxes to pay for keeping hospitals open, and anyone who could prove they had paid taxes during the previous year would be eligible for medical care.

And a recent article by Calvin Woodward of the Associated Press shows that even our top politicians have trouble making up their minds on how to handle this controversial issue. According to the article, presidential hopeful Barack Obama was against forcing people to get health insurance. But we all know that mandatory insurance is a key feature of the Bill that President Barack Obama recently signed into law.

Even if the politicians want to claim that we’re not a Christian nation, we’re still a nation that claims many Christians as citizens and some of us might appreciate Jesus’ response when he was asked “When did we see you sick or in prison and go visit you?” And the King replied “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m hoping somebody finds it soon, before we all get too sick to debate the issue

What thinkest thou?