Gabe Lyons begins his new book, Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (2010), with the startling confession that several years ago that he was “embarrassed to call myself Christian” (3). He and Dave Kinneman described the source of this embarrassment in their groundbreaking book UnChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity (2007). Next Christians is Lyons attempt to offer a compelling vision for how the church can reform itself as it learns from the next generations of Christians. This book seeks to answer three questions that Lyons has been chewing on in subsequent years: what does mission look like in America in the twenty-first century, how should the message of the Gospel go forward, and what does it mean to be a Christian in a world disenchanted with our movement (4)?
Dan Allender’s SABBATH (Thomas Nelson, 2009) is an invitation to practices that truly brings life. He first concedes that except for a few providential moments he may not be the person to write this text. Like many, in his drive to be successful in the hectic and harried world of academia, he let Sabbath practice fall by the wayside. Those moments, encounters across the world, a family emergency, and being lost in a sabbatical led to a changed heart. The book is part of a larger work from Thomas Nelson, The Ancient Practices Series, which seeks to reintroduce and reinvigorate the traditional spiritual disciplines of the church. To that end Allender succeeds.
First, restoring Sabbath practice in a 24/7 web of connectivity seems like an endless and possibly fruitless battle. In my life I am only returning in later years to the life-giving practice of setting aside a day to rest in order to give meaning and energy to my work. Allender would commend my tentative steps and then he would introduce me to a larger Sabbath practice filled with sensuous delights, a time set-apart for God and family, a feast to be shared, and finally a day to play in God’s presence. Allender never points to the Proverbs 8:30 where Wisdom celebrates God’s unfolding creation and seems, like a young child, saying “do it again” as creation unfolds, but the wonder of Sabbath is on display throughout the book. Allender states that “Sabbath is the day that holds together the beginning of time and the end; it is the intersection of the past and the future that opens a window into eternity each week” (p. 49). The simple practice of pausing every seven days leads us to pay attention to the larger unfolding of God’s redemptive work coming to consummation in an endless Sabbath.
Then, Sabbath practice is grounded in the playful moments when division gives way to shalom, destitution surrenders to abundance, and despair yields to joy. These chapters yield a series of probing questions that will coach you as you deepen your practice. “How would you live if there were no wars, enmity, battle lines, or need to defend, explain, interpret, or influence another so see anything differently” (p. 110)? “If we were to pray today for our enemies, who do you most hope to be united with on this earth? And who do you most hope not to see in heaven” (p. 111)? “What would give you the greatest sense of the abiding goodness of the Father’s arms” (p. 112)? Allender’s chapter on despair surrendering to joy needs a moment of caution attached to it. He has obviously enjoyed a good cigar, a fine glass of wine, and wholesome beer on his journey. The onset of diabetes has limited his ability to enjoy this rituals. As a pastor I offer a caution to those whose sensitivities would see these practices as insensitive to the intent of Sabbath. I personally think Allender is right to point us to the take real delights of all of our senses.
Finally, Allender moves us embrace the biblical vision of Sabbath: a remembering of the need for Sabbath after centuries of slavery in Egypt, the deliberate pause to listen for the still small voice, and reminding ourselves of God’s justice raining down on world thirsty for restitution and redemption. Here he offers a variety of practices, thoughts about ways to allow the scriptures to breath new life into us, and reminders of the God’s provision of welcoming all to the Sabbath as a matter of justice (“remember that you were slaves in Egypt” – Deuteronomy 5:15). Somehow sitting at the Sunday buffet and enjoying a feast with others within the church while others buzz about us caring for our needs hollows out Sabbatical intent. These last chapters contain many helpful thoughts that would reduce Sabbath practice to a series of rules, something many have chafed at throughout their lives. I think spending the first two-thirds of the book helping us learn to delight and play in the presence of God, family, and community should help us answer the question: “Do we really believe that Sabbath delight is God’s heart for us? Are we willing to silence the rabble of idols and foul spirits to hear the intoxicating joy of God” (p. 193)? Buy this book, ponder its Sabbath questions, engage God’s heart on a weekly basis, take time to stop and stand between the no longer and the not yet. You will be glad to find Sabbath taking up residence in your being.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of SABBATH mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. 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.”
Mark Batterson states in SOULPRINT that as a former athlete “the older I get, the better I was” (59). And of course I want to laugh at him, but I know myself too well. I may not have been that high school jock, but I have those touchstones in my life where “the better I was” seems superior to “the me I am.” Batterson challenges us to face this reality head on and decide that “the better I was” and “the me that I am” are nothing compared to what God wants for me. Through the story of David, Israel’s great king and poet, he reminds each of us that “we are God’s masterpiece, created anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things God planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT).
David’s journey is marked by moments of decision: do I wear King Saul’s armor or trust my experience with stones and a sling, do I trust that my present skills with a sling and harp for future will honor God and bless people in the future, am I marking moments of victory by carrying Goliath’s armor (all 125 pounds of it) with me wherever I go, am I becoming the person others or God wants me to be, can I use moments of crazy embarrassing dancing for God’s glory or be mired in fear, will I allow God to take my weakness and sinfulness and use it for glorious purposes, and finally, can I trust God will establish in me a legacy with plan and purpose? These questions mark the journey that Mark Batterson takes us on in SOULPRINT … along the way he sprinkles in marvelous moments of God’s grace permeating the lives of Jesus followers across the centuries.
The heart of Soulprint is found in five chapters. The first three are positive steps for discovering moments in your personal past where a God destiny was being birthed. Do not glide quickly past these chapters and pay careful attention to the creation of a life altar to mark these moments for yourself and others around you. As I continue to pay attention to appreciative moments and character strengths in myself and others I especially found Batterson’s two chapters on dealing with embarrassment and sinfulness to be gems. I remember moments when I was made the fool and now I realize how those moments also set me free from the fear of failure. Realizing how God can take my biggest moral failures, which often arose out of my greatest personal strengths, and forgive me and set me free for future work is a tremendous healing for me.
Included in SOULPRINT is a good seven session study guide and the opening chapter of PRIMAL, another great book by Mark Batterson. Find the first chapter of SOULPRINT here and a videoclip here. This book is a definite buy!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. 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.”
One of my mentors encouraged me to launch my ministry in every church with a study of John’s letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. I baulked at opening ministry with I percieved as a can of worms and then something hit me. These letters were written to the angels of the seven churches! Intuitively I knew that every organization I had worked with had a sense, an ethos, that was often hard to get a handle on and yet crucial to its function (or dysfunction!). My mentor was inviting me to pay attention to that ethos as I envisioned ministry in a new setting.
Samuel Chand’s recent book, Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration (Jossey-Bass, 2011), has brought greater clarity to my intuitive hunches about a church’s ethos. Chand quickly challenges the reader to understand that culture is king when it comes to leading an organization. Your leadership has less sway than the inspiring or toxic culture that you swim in within your church. The unnoticed and unexamined cultural code will rise up to challenge every change needed by the organization, so pay attention to Chand’s discerning exercises for revealing and changing the code for multiplied benefits. He uses the acronym CULTURE (control, undersanding, leadership, trust, unafraid, responsive, and execution) to help the reader think broadly about the cultural ethos of their organization.
The heart of the book centers on the chapters “Vocabulary Defines Culture” and “Change Starts with Me.” Our vocabulary shapes the environment which we lead. If we describe everything in negative terms, then we find negative results. I have learned that the opposite is true as well. Chand helped me understand that I have to examine every piece and source of communication for the words that hold an organization from realizing its potential. The culture code is strong and must be addressed on multiple fronts honest communication, deep listening, naming the unknown in “some people say,” and offering real affirmations as the church moves forward. The challenging reminder that I can only change myself is braced by a helpful section on how to leave gracefully when your gifts and strengths are not aligned with that of the organization’s cultural code. This section of the book is pure gold and I wish I had read it sooner!
Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code should be required reading for every pastor. And pastors should pass their copy on to other leaders in their congregations. Every community, business, enterprise, and organization has a “culture code” and not paying attention to the code inevitably leads to ruin.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the above book for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. 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.”
I was reminded recently of a 6 item checklist that Mike Breaux (@mikebreaux) walked our staff at Heartland Community Church through to determine whether or not we are in danger of some pitfalls that come with being in ministry.
Here are 6 things that will take you out of ministry (via Mike Breaux):
1. Life without boundaries
2. Calendars without Sabbath
3. Words without practice
4. Giftedness without humility
5. Relationships without discernment
6. Letting your identity get tied up in our title
This list is posted in my office. It should be in yours too!
Where do ideas come from?
- Ideas don’t come from watching television
- Ideas sometimes come from listening to a lecture
- Ideas often come while reading a book
- Good ideas come from bad ideas, but only if there are enough of them
- Ideas hate conference rooms, particularly conference rooms where there is a history of criticism, personal attacks or boredom
- Ideas occur when dissimilar universes collide
- Ideas often strive to meet expectations. If people expect them to appear, they do
- Ideas fear experts, but they adore beginner’s mind. A little awareness is a good thing
- Ideas come in spurts, until you get frightened. Willie Nelson wrote three of his biggest hits in one week
- Ideas come from trouble
- Ideas come from our ego, and they do their best when they’re generous and selfless
- Ideas come from nature
- Sometimes ideas come from fear (usually in movies) but often they come from confidence
- Useful ideas come from being awake, alert enough to actually notice
- Though sometimes ideas sneak in when we’re asleep and too numb to be afraid
- Ideas come out of the corner of the eye, or in the shower, when we’re not trying
- Mediocre ideas enjoy copying what happens to be working right this minute
- Bigger ideas leapfrog the mediocre ones
- Ideas don’t need a passport, and often cross borders (of all kinds) with impunity
- An idea must come from somewhere, because if it merely stays where it is and doesn’t join us here, it’s hidden. And hidden ideas don’t ship, have no influence, no intersection with the market. They die, alone.
Hard is not about sweat or time, hard is about finishing the rare, valuable, risky task that few complete.
Don’t tell me you want to launch a line of spices but don’t want to make sales calls to supermarket buyers. That’s the hard part.
Don’t tell me you are a great chef but can’t deal with cranky customers. That’s the hard part.
Don’t tell me you have a good heart but don’t want to raise money. That’s the hard part.
Identifying which part of your project is hard is, paradoxically, not so easy, because we work to hide the hard parts. They frighten us.
The paradox of an instant, worldwide, connected marketplace for all goods and services:
All that succeeds is the unreasonable.
You can get my attention if your product is unreasonably well designed, if your preparation is unreasonably over the top, if your customer service is unreasonably attentive and generous and honest. You can earn my business or my recommendation if the build quality is unreasonable for the intended use, if the pricing is unreasonably low or if the experience is unreasonably over-the-top irresistible given the competition.
Want to get into a famous college? You’ll need to have unreasonably high grades, impossibly positive recommendations and yes, a life that’s balanced. That’s totally unreasonable.
The market now expects and demands an unreasonable effort and investment on your part. You don’t have to like it for it to be true.
In fact, unreasonable is the new reasonable.