Brennan

The late Christian author and speaker, Brennan Manning said in a message: “The day you surrender in faith in unwavering trust, in reckless confidence to the compassion of Jesus over your life, I promise you every trace of shame, guilt, remorse, self-hatred, self-condemnation will vanish from your life.  Jesus is the transforming power of the love of God.”

Have you been transformed by Christ?  Truly surrendered it all over to Him?

In my encounters with people, from time to time I will meet someone who struggles with intense guilt, shame, and self-condemnation.  A majority of these people are already Christian and have already been baptized.

It’s a very real struggle.  But sometimes I wonder if we perpetuate the struggle with the way we expect others to act when they become Christian?  Too often we preach and teach a gospel of sin management, rather than that of Christ’s ultimate love and compassion for His children.

Romans 8:1-2 says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

We cannot use this as an excuse to continue in sin, for we must repent and begin the process of becoming more Christ-like each day we walk with Him.  But we cannot let our mistakes, slip-ups, and failures defeat us.  We cannot let them get in the way of growing spiritually; or especially make us believe that God doesn’t love us the same.

“Quit keeping score altogether and surrender yourself with all your sinfulness to God who sees neither the score nor the scorekeeper but only his child redeemed by Christ.” (Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging)

Romans 8:38-39 says: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You are loved.  Loved beyond measure.  So quit attempting to “measure up” to a standard that no one can meet.  We are sinful, imperfect, and fallen.  We can become more like Christ as we grow closer in our relationship with Him.  But as long as we’re here on earth, we will always make mistakes.  Don’t let your mistakes define you; let Christ define you.

Manning concluded his message with: “Your Christian life and mine don’t make any sense unless in the depth of our beings we believe that Jesus not only knows what hurts us, but knowing, seeks us out whatever our poverty, whatever our pain. His plea to His people is, ‘Come now, wounded, frightened, angry, lonely, empty, and I’ll meet you where you live. And I’ll love you as you are, not as you should be, because you’re never going to be as you should be.’”

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*This blog post was sparked after my wife and I bought the movie Brennan.  We had wanted to see it for quite some time, but didn’t have the chance until recently.  Although the movie isn’t the best I’ve ever seen, it’s filled with great Brennan Manning quotes.  You can find out more information about the film HERE.

Talking with God Book Review

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A lot of books on prayer read in a typical format.  They define prayer.  They explain the definition of prayer.  They give examples.  Then they conclude with a challenge to pray.  This book, Talking with God: What To Say When You Don’t Know How To Pray by Adam Weber, is a different breed of prayer books.

Talking with God is sectioned into four parts: The God We Talk With, The Way We Pray, How to Pray When…, and Only The Beginning.  These sections essentially function to help the reader understand a small momentum shift has occurred in the focus of the topic.  Other than that, the author maintains what I found was a wonderful conversational style of writing, which made for extremely fast reading.  Also, the type font is super easy on the eyes, which makes this book very enjoyable to digest.

I highly recommend this book.  It is clear, concise, yet full of Weber’s personal stories of reflection, humor, and typical life situations to bring a “realness” to prayer.  One can understand the definition of prayer, but applying that to the often hectic, busy, overwhelmed lives that most of us live becomes a challenge.  Weber simplifies prayer into what it should be: talking with God.

Don’t think that because the book is a quick read and a simplification of prayer that it lacks depth, because it certainly does not.  Weber cites and addresses many passages of Scripture, explaining how they apply to the prayer life of the individual.  Weber also pulls from past prayer teachers such as Brother Lawrence.  Beyond the research, Weber uses many personal stories from his church and pastoral ministry to give the reader insight as to why this book was written and why it’s necessary in the climate of our culture.

One thing that I kept thinking about while I read, was that this book seemed to be targeted directly at my age group.  (25 to 40)  Weber uses a lot of illustrations that relate to someone who grew up during the 80s and early 90s.  I do not see this as a hindrance to anyone younger or older, but there might be a small disconnect.

Let me share one of my favorite paragraphs from the book:  “We don’t need to impress God.  He’s the one who wants to be friends with us.  Just be you.  The real you, not some weird version of you.  Don’t try to sound all prim and proper.  Don’t use strange religious words.  Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing.  Don’t make it complicated.  Just talk with him.  We can’t mess it up!  My best advice on prayer: say exactly what’s inside you.  Don’t edit your words.  Say whatever you’re feeling.  Tell God in a few words.  But don’t hesitate to ramble either.  Let it be unpolished.”

If you feel like your prayer life is lacking.  Or if you don’t have one at all.  I urge you to give this book a try.  It’s a prayer book unlike most prayer books.  It’s a call into a deeper, intimate, yet real-life, raw, conversational relationship with God.

You can preorder, or wait until March 21st for it’s release.

 

More information on the book can be found HERE

More information on the author can be found HERE

Disclosure: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Spiritual Disciplines

biblesDisciplines?  Sounds harsh.  Sounds tough.  Usually used in a negative or punishing manner.  But in the right context can be beneficial.

Spiritual disciplines, simply put, are practices that promote spiritual growth in the life of an individual or community of believers in Jesus Christ.

Borrowing from Richard J. Foster, the 12 classic spiritual disciplines include: prayer, fasting, study, meditation, worship, service, submission, confession, guidance, simplicity, solitude, and celebration.

This is not a to-do list.  This is not a checklist.  This is not a self-help guide.

These spiritual disciplines are simply activities that Christians participate in, whether naturally, scheduled, or otherwise.  Most importantly, spiritual disciplines do not earn us favor with God or act as a measure for spiritual success.  They are exercises which equip us to live fully in and with God now, during our earthly lives.

for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8 ESV)

A life with Jesus is more than just a set of beliefs that one believes.  A life with Jesus changes who one is and ultimately changes what one lives for and how one behaves.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Whether you need “self-control” or just need to take a step back and review your time spend with God each day, I would like you to evaluate your spiritual disciplines.  Your time spend with Jesus.  Your life with God.

Pray.  Spend time in His Word.  Praise and worship.  Fast.  Seek solitude.  Serve others.  Love others.  Be present in your community.

Intentionally make time for God in your daily life.  Intentionally make time for others in your daily life.  Whatever is on your heart today, that you fee needs more attention in your walk with Christ, do it.  Begin with a small goal, and start towards it.

Make time for Him.

Love God.  Love Others.

 

(I plan on periodically blogging on spiritual formation and disciplines, offering insights from my studies, my personal life, from books, or from other people that have shaped my view of the disciplines/formation.)

Valentine’s Day Love

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Happy Valentine’s Day!  A day full of love.  Right?

I thought about love for a moment.  The things I love.  And how I use the word “love”.  As I pondered for a moment, I find that I use (misuse) the word “love” way too often.  Not to sidestep responsibility, but I am not the only one guilty of this.  I hear it misused everywhere I go and with many people I interact with daily.

In the New Testament we find two different Greek words translated into the English term for love.  Agape and Phileo.  In fact, the ancient Greek language itself had at least four different words for different forms of love.  Agape.  Phileo.  Eros.  Storge.  In the Old Testament Hebrew we find even more.  This was, and is, helpful.  The different terms can describe different targets, expressions, and values of “love” and those being “loved”.

The English language just does not suffice when it comes to this all important word.  How sill it is for me to say: “I love cheesesteaks!” or “I love football!”, then to turn around and tell my family that I love them, or pronounce that I love Christ Jesus.

Is my love for cheesesteak equivalent to Christ?

We must be careful how to use our language, especially words with such great meaning.  It has become all too easy for us to use the word “love” without thinking about the power and meaning behind it.  The term has become undervalued and overused; stretched and strained out of proportion.

I have even heard some teens begin to say it to each other after just a few weeks of dating, only to break up in the weeks/months following.  (Which is a whole other discussion in itself)  Maybe it’s time that we take a moment to think about what it means to truly love before we openly declare it.

It’s time we put the value back in the word that we use.  And do so before the words themselves lose all meaning.  But how?

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18 ESV)

Maybe the word no longer carries the value that it should, but we should at least attempt to let our actions carry the significance.

Let your love (actions) speak louder than the love (words) you speak.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

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When I was in high school I hated to read.  I would have rather done anything else but read.  “Reading is boring!” I would complain.  So, every year, when the summer reading assignments would be released, I would be forced to go to the bookstore with my mom and buy some books.  The thing is, though she bought them, I never read them.  I would get online, and search for book summaries, and hope that I could complete the assignments without reading the book.  And for the most part, it worked.  I read only one book, cover to cover, throughout my entire high school career.  Night by Elie Wiesel.  Kids, please do not follow my example.  Read your assigned books!

I’m not sure when my book neglect started.  Must have been middle school.  I was not always a book hater.  As a child, I used to love to read Berenstain Bears books, Dr. Seuss, and the like.  Then as I progressed, I loved reading The Boxcar Children and Goosebumps.  And even still, as my interests changed, I loved reading a line of Sports Illustrated for Kids sports stars’ biographies.  But then it all changed.

Thankfully, my love for reading returned.  I’m not sure if it was maturity.  Or maybe the rebellion just died down.  Or maybe it was the six months that I worked as a custodian in a library.  I don’t know, but I love books now.  My favorite books are mainly written on the topics of theology and Christianity.  But I also love a good fiction every now and again.

But the point of today’s blog is to mention a book I finished last week, Reading for the Common Good by C. Christopher Smith.

Reading for the Common Good is a book about books.  A book about reading.  But more than just reading.  The book explores the concept than churches (individuals collectively) that read together will grow closer with one another, as they advance together.  My absolute favorite quote, actually comes from the Epilogue: “God created us with an innate curiosity, which fuels our desire to learn and propels us into our calling as disciples.  Self-improvement and self-fulfillment, however, are not the primary end toward which our desires to learn are driving us.  Rather, God created us to learn in order to share our wisdom and be drawn into deeper connection with other.” (Page 145)

I forget where I heard the quote originally, but “leaders are learners” and one of the best ways to learn is to read.  Because if you are a leader, you should always be seeking to learn more and grow more.  Yourself, your church, your family, your company, and all the people around you.  But same goes for those who don’t consider themselves to be leaders.  For the church to grow together, in knowledge and relationship, reading can be the catalyst.  Start with Scripture, and grow into a full range of books.

If you love reading, go buy this book, or come to my office and borrow it (please don’t dog-ear my pages, haha!). It’s an easy read, only 150 pages, with an included book list in the back.  Also, take a moment to check out C. Christopher Smith’s church’s book review at  http://englewoodreview.org/

 

What I’m currently reading:

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren (Great book!  Almost done)

My personal favorites:

Christian: The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

Fiction: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Commentary: The Gospel of Matthew (NICNT) by R.T. France

The Hum of Angels Book Review

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Sometimes I really believe that Scot McKnight lives in an alternate world, where there are no limitations to the number of hours in a day or number of days in a year.  This guy always seems to be doing something.  Writing book after book.  Commentary after commentary.  Blog after blog.  Podcast after podcast.  Teaching class after class.  Lecture after lecture.  Seminar after seminar.  I simply have no clue how he does it all!

Every time Scot McKnight releases a book, (which seems like every other week) I try to get my hands on it.  So, when I had the opportunity to get ahold of his forthcoming book The Hum of Angels, I didn’t hesitate, even for a moment.

You know, just to be up front, I don’t think I would have considered reading this book, if it wasn’t written by McKnight.  I typically shy away from “angel books”.  I’m not sure why exactly.  But I just do.  And I’m not the only one.  It’s funny, because McKnight dives right into this very concept within the first couple chapters of the book.  It’s not about believing or disbelieving.  It’s just something about focusing too much on angels, that for some reason makes me uneasy.  Maybe it’s because there are people out there who maybe focus too much attention on angels, while not enough on God Himself.  But that’s not exactly the reason either.  Maybe it’s because of the mystery behind angel encounters.  Whatever it may be, I’m thankful for McKnight’s work, to help clarify what the Bible says about these all important creations of God.

I really enjoyed how McKnight set up this book.  Chapter one (which I don’t want to spoil) explains the title of the book, and immediately intrigues and glues the reader to the pages.

The book itself is broken into four parts, with roughly ten or so (give or take) chapters within each part.  The parts go as follows: In Defense of Angels, God’s Loving Presence In Angels, God’s Loving Advocacy In Angels, and God’s Loving Transformation Through Angels.  Part by part and chapter by chapter McKnight simply but concisely explains what Scripture says about angels.

A profound and memorable statement from the book is: “Either we trust what God and the Spirit tell us in the Word about angels or we don’t.  Either we believe it because it is written, or we choose to believe what we choose to believe.  While I do not discount the reality that angels still appear to humans, I stand with the Bible’s understanding of angels.”

Although I’m no expert in books on angels or angelology itself, I consider The Hum of Angels to be a new go-to source of information for ministers, lay-people, students, or for anyone for that matter.  McKnight has delicately poured over the Bible to find and site roughly 300 Scriptures on angels, in order to help the reader know, understand, and recognize these incredible messengers of God Himself.

“If you believe in God, you also believe in angels.”

So, go ahead, preorder.  Or wait until February 7th 2017 for it’s release.

 

(Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.)

More information on the book can be found HERE

A short biography on Scot McKnight can he found HERE

Silence

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Just before Christmas I purchased two copies of Shusaku Endo’s book Silence.  One for me and one for my sister, as a part of her Christmas gifts.  I wanted to read mine right away, but I had a stack of other books in the way, as well as finishing up the Fall semester of grad school.  So, after a few papers, a couple books, and the turn of the year, I was able to begin.  I had heard all the buzz for over a year now about Martin Scorsese adapting the book for the screen and how passionate he was about this project.  I’ll admit, I think Martin Scorsese is an amazing film maker.  (He actually wanted to become a priest while in high school) Yes, no doubt, many of his works are hard to stomach, and filled with violence and vile language.  This I do not condone.  But his talent for captivating an audience, weaving a story, and beautifully directing is unmatched.

But like I said, I bought the book.  Once I finally could, when my evenings were free of extra work, my family was off to bed, and there was nothing else that had to get done first, I started reading.  My typical reading time is from 10pm until 1am.  And it didn’t take long before I was glued to the pages.  And before I even realized it, I was finished.  With the book complete, now I could go see the movie.

I don’t want to get to wrapped up in singing Scorsese’s praises, explaining the plot of the book, or posting a review of the movie.  As a minister, I am very careful about recommending books or movies.  I don’t want to put precedent on certain things for others, just because I personally enjoy them.  But I will say a few things.

Silence is a book about persecution.  Although it is historical fiction, the book speaks of a era in 1600’s Japan when Christians were killed for their faith.  The book explains the travels of a Jesuit priest’s mission to Japan to assist the local churches, as well as seek the status of another Jesuit priest who preceded them.  During his time in Japan the priest encounters the Church forced to hide their faith and forced to worship underground.  Samurai and government officials roam from village to village seeking out Christians to apostatize publically or be killed.

Obviously the content is difficult.  The themes are uneasy.  Silence.  God’s silence during pain and suffering.  God’s silence during the persecution of His people.  In the book God is portrayed as the one who remains silent.  But God’s silence is the author’s connection to God’s message.  It is the silence of accompaniment for the hurting, the forsaken, and the suffering.  God choosing not to taken away the pain, but suffer it with them.

The book and the movie are both extremely well made.  I can honestly say that I have never seen a movie follow so closely to the original book.  But as always, I recommend reading the book first.  So, if you’re going to read it, or if you’re going to go see it, do so with the right frame of mind.  This is not your typical “Christian movie”.  In a world where we flock to go see “God’s Not Dead 2” in the movie theater and think we’re watching persecution, let’s gain the proper perspective.

My Unexpected “Tour”

Yesterday was MLK Day.  Yesterday was also my youngest son’s first birthday.  Since I have a pretty full work week ahead, I decided to take yesterday as my off day.  When I am away from work, I try my best to give my family my full attention and stay away from work related email and such.  I also try to do something other than sit at home all day.  So we decided to go out to eat for lunch, then hit the used book store afterward.

We loaded up the van, and headed to Chuy’s for some Tex-Mex.  When we arrived the place was moderately busy, which was a surprise to me, as I thought it would be packed.  We were seated immediately, I waited no longer than two minutes for our chips and salsa.  Our waiter seemed like he was in a hurry, so we just ordered our drinks as asked for some time to look over the menu.  I mentioned to my wife, that the salsa was good, but I was craving their creamy jalapeno dip.  When our server came back with our drinks, I mentioned that it had been awhile since we had been there, and were interested in ordering some dip apart from our salsa.  “I’d really like to order the…”  And he flew off toward the back of the restaurant saying something along the lines of taking our family on a “dip tour”.

Our server returned a couple minutes later loaded arm to arm with saucers.  He had 10 different types of dip in his hand.  Fumbling through each one, he began flinging them onto the table, announcing the name of each sauce as it whirled to a stop.  Queso!  Ranchero!  Tomatillo!  Deluxe Tomatillo!  Tex-Mex!  Boom-boom!  Green Chile!  Hatch Green Chile!  Then the enthusiasm began to diminish.  He seemed to forget the remaining sauces.  “Uh, I believe this is the, no, it looks like the, uh…”  Followed by a series of guesses and confusing sauce names.  There was no way we would remember any of this.

After our server walked away, we tried our best to remember what was what.  Regardless, we were still without the creamy jalapeno.  The other sauces were great in their own right, don’t get me wrong, but they weren’t fulfilling my craving for that creamy cool jalapeno goodness.

As I sat there in my world of dips and sauces, I thought about the overload of choices and distractions all throughout our culture.  Variety is the “spice of life”, but sometimes it’s too much.  Especially when what you’re truly seeking after is lost in the fog of superabundance.  I believe we live in the age of distraction.  We constantly feed ourselves with something, whatever it may be.  Limitless choices and availability.  If I don’t like what I’m watching on TV, I can change it to virtually anything.  I can stream movies for hours.  “Binge watch” entire series at a time.  Occupy my time on YouTube.  Message and text with friends.  Social media.  And I could go on and on.  Have you ever found yourself grab your phone out of your pocket because you were bored, for just one second?  Or just out of habit?  I don’t want to sound like the grumpy old man shaking his finger at technology, but we’re watering down our ability to connect.  Losing our capacity to hold deep sustained focus.  Eliminating patience and contentment.

I see this same issue moving it’s way into the church.  In a few short years, church services will change too.  We already incorporate videos and screens into what we present now, but even that will change.  Sermons and lectures will have to adapt to the upcoming generations in a way we’ve never seen before.  We can no longer think of church as an hour-long presentation.  A time set aside to sit and watch.  That mindset must change.  Think about it.  My Sunday sermon may be well thought out, drive a relevant message, and connect with the audience, but I’m “competing” for attention.  The best sermons in the world are available online, at your fingertips.  You can stream one at any given moment you prefer.  If church is simply listening to some music and a message, then I can do that on my own.  But I don’t want Christ or His church to become a “dip tour”, where countless programs and events and meetings and services cloud the God-given crave for Him within us.

I truly believe God calls us into community.  To be His church.  A family.  Something that cannot be satisfied by false or surface-level relationships.  Something that cannot be maintained by email or messenger.  Something that cannot even be fulfilled in a church service or sermon.  Real relationships.  Face to face.  Hand to hand.  Blood, sweat, and tears.  Yes, we must embrace the distraction.  We must embrace the technology.  We must embrace the culture.  Find ways to work within it.  Find ways to use it effectively.  But the church must also be counter-cultural.  A place where lasting relationships, true fellowship, and Christ Himself can be found.

Well, to our surprise, our server returned to our table holding a full saucer of creamy jalapeno sauce.  We didn’t request it.  He just brought it.  “Hey guys, thought you should try our creamy jalapeno dip too!”  And we did.  And it was great.  Although my wife and I didn’t get much of it, because our middle son devoured it.

Take some time this week, to pay closer attention to what matters.  Listen more.  Turn off the distractions.  Meet up with your friends and family.  Laugh face to face.  Hold a hand.  Kiss a cheek.  Be available.  And most of all spend time with Jesus.  Fascinate yourself with Him.  Awaken to the awe of His presence.0116171242

First Is The Worst

Hey guys!  Or probably: Hey no one!

Today I decided to start a blog.  Why?  No clue.  Hopefully it lasts longer than my YouTube vlog.  But hey, in my defense, I became super busy, and creating interesting video content is tough to do on a regular basis.

What will this blog contain?  Thanks for asking!  Well, whatever comes to mind.  Typically one can expect thoughts on ministry, theology, leadership, books, or whatever else I may decide in the moment.  Nevertheless, exciting!  Maybe.  Don’t hold your breath.

For those who don’t already know me, I am an introvert.  How does that affect my life, my ministry, and this blog?  I guess we’ll just have to see…