Friday, May 22, 2015

which came first the kingdom or the church

Ever wonder what you could or should do to fix your church? Or even the Church?  According to Reggie McNeal, in his recent book Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church - and What We Should Do Instead (Tyndale Momentum, 2015), that's the wrong question.
If I'm reading McNeal correctly, and not just reading into McNeal some of the things I wonder about,  we might just have some things backward.  We focus on growing our local congregation instead of joining God on His mission to grow the Kingdom.  We say 'church' as if it were some magical mystical thing when in reality we're talking about our denomination, or the building where a group of us meet on Sunday morning, or our local congregation, whether it's comprised of 50 people or 5,000.
McNeal points out the church was created as part of God's kingdom, (and he points out that 'church' is only mentioned a few times in the New Testament, while "Kingdom" is mentioned again and again: the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven). But modern day Christians seem to want to fit the kingdom into the church. Much like people want to put God in a box, a box with dimensions of their own design.
Kingdom work is being done by people who often don't even realize that they're engaged in it. And wrapped up as we often are in our small c church worlds, we don't recognize it as such either. Funny how that works, if my church is doing it, it's kingdom work, if you, your church, or your non-church group is engaged in the same activity, you're just showing off, copying, or engaged in wanna-be activity.
Some great discussion starters  and questions are found at the back of the book.
A great book for church leaders, all of us who can stand to be reminded from time to time how God intends for things to work.

I was provided a copy of this book from Tyndale Momentum in exchange for an unbiased review.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

American Sniper, the Hollywood version of Chris Kyle’s journey as an American hero.

I had to put it that way, because the movie seemed a little too made up to be real.  First off let me offer a disclaimer: I haven’t read the book, but I have served in the military, and some of the scenes seem contrived. For instance, I can’t imagine that anyone out in the field, engaged in combat operations would be aiming a gun at an enemy combatant with one hand, and using the other hand to hold a phone and carry on a personal phone call. But on the other hand, the movie covers a lot of time in just a couple of hours, boot camp, special training, four combat tours along with a period of time after his discharge.  I also know that when people are in situations as intense as some of the ones depicted in the film that their language is not always family friendly, and again I've been in the military, so profanity is not necessarily unexpected. Having said that, it seems that the f-bombs were excessive.
But beyond that, I enjoyed the film. It can be viewed in so many different ways, and on many different levels. It’s the story of a descent into hell, and the ladder back up; it’s a portrait of PTSD and how it affects individuals and families. It’s a reminder that war is hell. It’s a vivid reminder that sometimes being a hero isn't all it’s cracked up to be
For those who haven’t served in the military, the movie offers insight into what we asked of the men and women who put on the uniform, and beyond that, what we ask of their families during the times when a spouse or parent is deployed. And for some it shows why we honor our troops when they return from those difficult deployments.
As I watched the movie, I found myself wishing that it were just the imagination of somebody sitting at a computer, but the harsh reality is that the world is not a perfect place. We invite young men and women to serve their country; we offer then special training, and then send them off to faraway places where they are exposed to horrors that no human being should ever have to experience, but we don’t have the mechanisms in place to adequately care for them when they return home. Some of them are shattered physically, and we can offer physical therapy and artificial limbs, but how do we help those whose injuries are unseen, but often hurt much more deeply.
The movie is rated ‘R’ for profanity, and with good reason. If you can get past that, it’s a movie well worth watching. 

My friends at Grace Hill Media have given me a copy of the Blue-Ray DVD as a giveaway for facebook friends/readers of my blog.  Comment on the blog, or on my facebook page before May 24th, and be entered for a chance to win the DVD.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Love without fear

                Wouldn't it be nice if everyone loved like we want to be loved, or better yet like God loves us, and not just the way we think He loves?  In No Fear in Love: Loving Others the Way God Loves Us (Baker Books, 2015) Andy Braner points out several ways that we can learn to do just that, along with some of the obstacles that we so frequently encounter or create.  Braner's book is a lesson in loving others even when there is significant disagreement.
                Braner writes in the introduction that his hope is that the reader will learn to become a gentler, more caring and more compassionate follower of Jesus; that fear and hate would be replaced with a willingness to love others generously.  That sounds good on paper, but unless everyone in the world reads the book and agrees to follow the recommendations, it seems that generous love remains a lofty goal
                Our world is rapidly shrinking thanks to technology and as you'll read in the 2nd section of this book one of the side effects of that shrinking world is that worldviews collide. Non-Christians from around the world come to what have long been seen as traditionally Christian countries; they come to study, to work, or as refugees. And with them they bring their world views founded in Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, animism and other belief systems.
                Christians have their own language and belief system, which work just fine when you're interacting with other Christians, but sometimes that language doesn't translate well when dealing with people from other cultures.   Although a goal of everyone loving fearlessly is admirable, my fear is that Braner does not go far enough in reminding the reader that Christianity involves following Christ exclusively.  Loving others is the Christian thing to do, but it's all too easy to cross the line into pluralism or inclusivism.
                But fear, one of the most prevalent emotions known to man can be replaced by love. We need to learn to love our enemies, to love those who think differently than we do, and be willing to share the gospel with them.
                I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

live life as it was meant to be lived

God gives us all certain abilities, certain desires, certain dreams, but all too often we play it safe, refuse to take risks, and miss out on some of the exciting things that God has in store for us if we are only willing to take a few risks along the way. At some point most of us ask ourselves what we would do different if we had it to do over.  Mark Batterson and Richard Foth encourage us to ask that question while there is still time to do something about some of the things we wish we had done differently. A Trip around the Sun: Turning Your Everyday Life into the Adventure of a Lifetime (Baker Books, 2015) is their response to a challenge to choose adventure. 
                Mark Batterson, Lead Pastor of National Community Church, is one of my favorite authors. Dick Foth is his mentor, and in this book they tell their adventure stories.  One of the things that Batterson has mentioned in other books is that Christ followers need to quit living in a way that suggests that the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.  It’s obvious that neither of these men is in any danger of that.
                A trip around the sun sounds like it might be dangerous, or something that only happens in science fiction movies, but the truth is that each of us does it on a regular basis/ In fact you count the times you've made the journey as you count the candles on your birthday cake. Each trip is a year of your life. Some of us live dangerously, some play it safe, and some look back and wish that they could do it all over again.
                Everybody counts their trips around the sun, some count more than others, but what’s important is not the number of trips, but what is done with them; and Batterson and Foth take turns sharing their experiences, lessons and adventures during their respective trips around the sun.
                One thing that hit home for me was that Christians are just as guilty of living safely as are others. Christians, that group of people that have signed up to follow Jesus.  One chapter, “The Preposition That Will Change Your Life” makes it clear.  In Mark 3, we read that Jesus prayed and then chose the men that he wanted to be with Him. We not just called to follow Jesus, we’re called to be with Him, to with all that involves. It’s not just on Sunday morning, it’s not just when we’re doing Christian things, it’s at work, at school, at play, with family and friends, co-workers and class-mates, and yes with fellow church goers. Being with Jesus isn't always easy, but at the same time, it’s not one of the things that we’re going to one day look back at and regret.
                This is an easy book to read, but the message is much harder to digest. It calls us to step up our game, to dare to live the life that God has in store for us, not just the one that we can slide by with, and then live to regret.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for the review. I was not required to write a positive review.