Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In their hearts, they understand that Jesus is for everyone

I asked to review Matthew Barnett’s Misfit Welcome: Find Yourself in Jesus and Bring the World along for the Ride (Thomas Nelson, 2014) because I liked the title and the cover. I’m glad I did! Reading it is a journey full of laughter and tears as Barnett describes the struggles and the successes of a ministry that has to resemble that of Jesus in its boldness.
Barnett is the pastor of Angelus Temple, and Founder of the Dream Center – a multi-faced ministry operating out of a renovated hospital in Los Angeles. This book is the story of how he left behind the church world he knew to go to Los Angeles to plant a church, and what happened along the way to that church plant becoming the Dream Center as it exists today.
Face it, in one way or another we’re all misfits, and Barnett and his staff, which he lovingly describes: “At our church we have ex drug addicts, pimps and murderers – and that’s just the pastoral staff. You know you've got an outreach church when your ushers wear ankle bracelet monitors” (p34), have found a way to reach even the most misfit of those misfits. And in the process lives are changed.
Jesus met people where they were, a fact that is often forgotten as churches try to draw people to them. Jesus served the ‘least of these’, and expected his followers to do the same. Angelus Temple/Dream Center seems to be reviving that concept. The renovated hospital serves as the base for hundreds of ministries, all of which came about because people some people were willing to reach out and try to meet the needs of others.  Jesus looked for the lost, the hungry, the hurting and the burdened. He calls us to go looking too.
There are a lot of important lessons that this book offers, but I want to mention two. “God hasn't called us to point out the obvious, that people have sinned (I’m pretty sure they know it), but to show them a bright future that they never dreamed possible” (p129). And from page 35, talking about misfits and eccentrics: “Why do people like that feel so connected to the church? The reason the church has so many diverse people is that we are the only place that will welcome them”…The church as the greatest collection of colorful people because deep in these people’s hearts they know that Jesus is for everyone.
Barnett tells stories of how ministries came to be, but many chapters include the stories of those who were ministered to, saw their lives change, and are now in charge of programs ministering to others. This book is a great example of what an inwardly focused church is not. It’s a great example of what Jesus’ church should be!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from BookLook Bloggers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Sunday, October 26, 2014

revisiting Celebration of Discipline

The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines (By Nathan Foster, Baker Books, 2014) is the story of a man who gained a new perspective on life, though some time honored practices. Nathan Foster is just another guy, except for the fact that his father, Richard Foster, wrote a book several years ago wrote a book called Celebration of Discipline which is widely regarded as one of THE must-go to resources when one is wondering how to grow spiritually.
But interest in spiritual disciplines is fading, and this book may just be the catalyst that will revive the interest.  I hope so. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on fasting. Why? Because over the years I have tried to practice that discipline more than some of the others. We have common ground as it were, I understood what he was talking about.  Some of the others were interesting, some not so much so, and a couple of chapters intrigued me: I want to practice them in my own life.
Foster has a compelling way of personalizing the disciplines. He tells his story of how he applied the disciplines to his life – a life, by the way, that has not always been marked with saintliness. He is upfront about his reluctance to embrace the disciplines, but when the time was right, he listened to his father’s assurance that the result of the disciplines is joy, and decided to give it a try.
When I think “spiritual disciplines” my tendency is to think monastic orders, living in a cave like the early desert fathers, or at least leading a pretty austere life style. Foster shows us that even with a job, a wife, and children, that it can be done. And that yes, the end result can be joy.
When someone uses their own past in the context of a book like this, one of two things usually happens, either they pretty it up so much that the reader gags over the saccharin sweetness, and none of it seems believable, or they focus so much on the shock factor that the message gets lost. Foster has struck a nice balance. He is a human being, and as he weaves his story into how he learned about the joy that comes from the disciplines, he neither minimizes not glorifies those parts of his life that have made him the person that he is.  
I suppose that there are groups that would claim the disciplines as their own, and will be upset with Foster’s treatment. Others will be amazed to find that such a thing even exists. Still others will after getting over their reluctance to deal with anything dealing with discipline, will wish they had started the journey sooner.
An engaging and candid treatment of a subject that most are afraid to address.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 

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Friday, October 17, 2014

comments on "Wisdom of the Sadhu"

The book is called Wisdom of the Sadhu: Teachings of Sundar Singh, (compiled and edited by Kim Comer, Plough Publishing House, 2000) and indeed it is filled with wisdom. Sundar Singh (1889-1929) was born in India to a family who practiced their ancestral Sikh faith. At the age of 15 he burned a Bible as a protest against Christianity. The following year, deep in despair, and feeling suicidal, he cried out, and experienced Yesu (Jesus) the Master. He converted to Christianity and was baptized on his 16th birthday. His father disinherited him.
Within just a few weeks of his conversion he adopted the lifestyle of a sadhu: (a lifestyle marked by poverty, devotion and prayer). He was an itinerant preacher, and has been called India's most famous convert to Christianity, and a modern day St Francis.
This book is a compilation of Singh's teachings: parables and meditations. He presents the gospel in a fresh and startling different way to many western Christians, but he remains true to the gospel while interpreting it in the context and culture of his native India. (In that sense he was way ahead of his time, because today, culture and context are primary elements of an attempt to share the message)
Of particular interest to me was the  chapter "A Warning to the West". Although Singh's comments were made almost a century ago, they still apply, and his warning certainly seems to me to have been prophetic.  One would do well to return to the simplicity of Christianity that Jesus taught.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for the review.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Stop and use your senses. Comments on Yankoski: The Sacred Year

Michael Yankoski's  The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apple, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life  (Thomas Nelson, 2014) is a story of learning to grow in the Christian faith. Mike Yankoski (Author of Under the Overpass) got tired of talking about, and decided to experience, a life of faith. This book is the report on his year of practicing spiritual disciplines.
The book is divided into 3 basic sections, his experiences growing relationally in 3 directions: inward (depth with self); upward (depth with God); and outward (depth with others).  This book is much easier to read than one I read long ago about Aelred of Rievaulx and Spiritual Friendship, but the basics are the same.
Christianity involves more than an hour in the pews on Sunday. It is very relational, and has to involve more than just taking at face value the seeming evidence that constantly confronts us. You’ll delight in hearing  Yankoski’s stories – yes hearing: he writes in such a way that you have to do more than just read, as he recounts his adventures with Father Solomon as his spiritual director.
This is as much an invitation to practice some of the ancient spiritual disciplines as it is the telling of the authors experience in learning to slow down and listen, slow down and observe, slow down and touch and smell and taste the glory of God that exists all around us.
For those of you who are familiar with Under the Overpass, you’ll find the writing style is totally different. That’s not a bad thing, it just took me a few pages to find the rhythm since I was expecting something similar to his previous book.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my review.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: Journey to Jesus: Building Christ-Centered Relationships with Muslims

Journey to Jesus: Building Christ-Centered Friendships with Muslims is a 2 -DVD, 6-session study on building relationships. But relationships is not the end goal. Within the context of those friendships or chilly relationships, Christians have the opportunity to share their faith. Because people from many different backgrounds are migrating to the US, many of us have opportunities like never before to share our faith with people of a different faith.
With a 'slide show' that covers several things for the viewer to watch out for, short videos of how the relationships might develop, and downloadable materials for each session, this is a great study for small groups or individuals interested in sharing their faith with adherents of Islam. 
Christians are individuals and so are Muslims, and it's foolish to think that every Muslim we meet has the same background, or will respond equally to the same approach. This series shows 3 different types of relationship, one based on 2 moms who meet while their children are playing at a local park, another based on a work relationship, and the third based on an assignment given to college students. Each plays out in a different way, and this course does not really address some of the more hostile elements of the Islamic faith that are so much in the news these days.
The downloadable materials include background information, leader's preparation guide and participant handouts for each session.
For a basic introduction to building those bridges with Muslim friends and neighbors, this is an excellent beginning. For anyone thinking that this will equip them to deal with any and all situations, it will fall short.
I finished the videos wanting to know how the stories eventually played out: Were there any conversions to Christianity, did the friendships continue, or were the differences so great that the friendships dissolved because of the tension created by faith difference? I would have liked  a final scene with a "five years later" statement, but perhaps that was beyond the scope of this project. Relationships are ongoing and progressive, and the lack of finality is a reminder that we are called to plant seeds, and that we may not see results for some time.
I hope to use this study in our midweek bible study. Hopefully this will be part of a series dealing with how to build bridges with members of other faith groups: Hindu, Buddhist, etc.
In compliance with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, I am required to mention  that Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this DVD.