“Little friends, someday when you are in heaven, what do you think Abba will ask you?”

This question asked by Willie Juan (the main character in Smack Dab in the Middle of God’s Love by Brennan Manning and John Blase) to a group of children gathered on a summer afternoon at his house.

The children answer his question in turns and put words to some of humankind’s most basic questions about God and his love.  Willie Juan answers all their questions with a variation of the fact that we are all, “Smack dab in the middle of God’s love.”

I found this book to be a heartwarming tale of a God who loves us beyond our mistakes and shortcomings and the human response to such love.  The illustrations were colorful and cheerful and I would recommend this book to anyone with kids or to someone who needs a reminder of a God who loves us vehemently.

Thank you to Book Sneeze for giving me a chance to review this book.  These opinons are my own.

I read a fascinating book recently about management and performing well at your job called First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham.  It is written from a business perspective and is about managing people and helping them realize their full potential as employees.

If you are employed at all, it is worth reading from cover to cover, but he laid down a quote on the last page that, I feel, has implications for those of us who disciple students.  He said this,

“Don’t try to put in what was left out.  Try to draw out what was left in” (pg. 245).

So often, discipleship becomes about cramming in bits of information to students to help them know how to “be good” and “follow the rules” (don’t drink, don’t party, don’t watch rated R movies, etc.), but I have been in ministry long enough to see this form of discipleship fail.

I wonder if, instead of focusing students on what they should not do, we should draw them to their potential in the Spirit of Christ inside them. Some thoughts:

  1. Jesus did it. With those he discipled, he said very little about “following the rules,” in fact, many times he actually told them to break them.  He sent them out in pairs pronouncing the kingdom, he called him to walk on the water, he spoke at length about the Spirit who would give them power when he left.  He enabled them to focus, not on what they were doing wrong, but on what they could do so right.
  2. Those times when students don’t “follow the rules” were died for.  Our goal is not to try to turn bad people into good people, it is to try to help turn bad people into saved people.
  3. Any behavior change will likely be intrinsic. A heart in love with Jesus is the best help for students to follow the rules I have ever seen.  If people are going to change, it has got to come from the inside (a heart which has been redeemed).  Words of Paul ring a bell here, “Let us live up to what we have already attained” (Philippians 3:16).
Perhaps, our goal in discipleship should be to help people realize that a follower of Christ is less pushed by following rules and more pulled into the salvation they have already attained.
Thoughts?

Last week, I was the event coordinator at a week of Jr High Camp.  As I have been out of camp for about a decade, I did a lot of things wrong, but I think there are a few things that I did right.  Here is a list:

  1. I Used Mature High Schoolers on my Faculty - Though it was a bit hard to get them to get out of bed on time, I found them to be spectacular when it came to relating their stories to the Jr. Highers.  Not to mention, the late night mentoring discussions with them and the chance for them to flex their spiritual muscles in real ministry was great for their growth in Christ.
  2. Campfire - Many have given up on this old fashioned event at camp, but I embraced it and did one every night even though it was insanely hot outside. It is so different from anything the students experience on a weekly basis; this makes it that much more powerful.
  3. Balls and Music - As I said, it was ridiculously hot, so much of what was planned outdoors had to be cancelled so no one died of heat exhaustion.  We found that free time with beach balls and music went a long way in helping students, not only cope with the heat, but in giving them a chance to burn energy and “hang out.”
  4. Affirm the Faculty - I recruited many people to serve as faculty for my week.  They performed so well and many went above and beyond their call of duty.  I affirmed them every chance I got.  This contributed, at least in part, to a week virtually free of any faculty controversy.
What ideas do you have in planning a successful camp or retreat?

I ran across this picture of the “Perfect Employee” on Guy Kawasaki’s blog.  This guy has a, “Modern haircut with a touch of gray that boasts of knowledge and wisdom,” a, “Family picture . . . always in his front pocket,” and, my personal favorite, he, “Wins the air-guitar contest evey year at the company picnic – last year’s song: ‘Sweet Child of Mine.’”

This reminded me of a blog I read once called, “The Perfect Youth Ministry Leader” – a quiz one takes to find out if they are “An Intern” or an “Epic Legend” in youth ministry.  In this list, the youth worker must have, “. .  .the ‘side hug’ down to a science,” and have, “. . . a verse tattooed somewhere on his body (+2 points for Hebrew words).”

Satire aside, what attributes would you place on the perfect youth minister?  Here are a few that I came up with:

  1. Knows that he/she is not the Savior of students.
  2. His/Her investment in students is long-term; knowing that fruit takes a good deal time to grow.
  3. Knows that the “perfect youth worker” does not exist and he/she determines their worth based on what Christ thinks of them, not the points on the “cool scale” they can accumulate by having the proper amount of facial hair or Christian t-shirts.

Prodigal Son.  Bankrupt.  Sick.  Hungry.  Eating pig food. Envying his Father’s servants.

Why student ministry?  Students will face pig troughs in life. 

“When he came to his senses . . . he got up and went to his father” (Luke 15:17-20).

Why student ministry?  Students need memories of adults acting for their Father to help them find their way back.

Sunday afternoon cookouts at Jack’s house.  Leon, our smiling Sunday School teacher.  Curt’s basement, where I devoted my life to full time Christian ministry.  My youth sponsors’ actions when I was young helped pave a road for me with memories of my Father.

Why student ministry? There is no magic number of memories which guarantee a student will return.

This is why it is so important to take that student out for a Coke, or teach that Sunday School class week after week, or go to that wrestling match (even though watching two sweaty teenage boys in spandex flopping around on a mat is not your idea of fun). With every bit of asphalt we lay for a student, we help make the Father easier to come back to.

Have you faced any pig troughs?  Which people helped pave your road back to the Father?

Let me start this review by saying that I am not an avid biography reader, so I picked Washington: A Legacy of Leadership by Paul Vickery and Stephen Mansfield up for a change of pace.

The bright side of this book was to see some of the mistakes Washington made (especially in his early military career) and how he prevailed when he was presented with similar situations in the future because of his lessons learned.  It was also interesting to see how he drew his strength from his calling from God, and how he perceived himself to be singularly qualified to do what he was able to do.  I did walk away with a greater respect for this man who sacrificed much for his country.

I am not sure if it was how a biography writing style differed from my regular reading fare, but I never found myself in a groove while reading this work.  It seemed to drag along with infinitesimal details about Washington’s life at times and it was a bit like being hit with a birage of information with little reflection as to the significance of what the information meant.

If you are a history buff or a biography lover, you will no doubt love this book, but if not, be prepared for a long and, at times, laborious, read.  Writing styles aside, however, this man was an amazing character from American History.

Thank you to Book Sneeze for giving me a chance to review this book.  These opinons are my own.

In true Erwin McManus style, his book Unleashed, paints a beautiful, all be it incomplete, picture of what life as a Christian is supposed to be.  Namely, this:

. . . a life lived in the simple belief that all we are meant to do is the outflow of faith, hope, and love (pg. 12).

He relies heavily on his ethos that,

“. . .  the life you long to live is not waiting in the future; it is waiting in the inner recesses of your soul.  You don’t need to go find faith you need to unleash it.  You don’t need to go find life; you need to unleash it.  In fact, everything that is good or beautiful and true that you will spend your entire life searching for is simply waiting to be set free through a life that follows Christ with reckless abandon” (pg. 18).

If I have one criticism of the book (and, having heard McManus speak on many occasions, I would say it is not an accurate portrait of his beliefs), it would be that he seems to find this “unleashed” life in simply taking huge risks with your life in Christ; risks which take place largely outside of the community that is the Church.  In fact, I would go so far, at times, to call his deconstruction and treatment of the Church, harsh.

Aside from his individualistic approach (again, which I have only found in this book) to a faith meant to be lived out in a community, I would say his words are extremely motivational and many of them resounded in my Spirit as truths to live by (see the two quotes above for examples).

Tempered with an attitude of love towards the Bride of Christ, I recommend this book heartily to someone seeking to grow in their Christian walk.

Thank you to Book Sneeze for giving me a chance to review this book.  These opinons are my own.

Shake the Dust

April 27, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 7:21-29

Poet, Anis Mogjani, in this video, calls his listeners to action after they hear his words:

This is for you…
Just like the days I burn at both ends,
and every time I write, every time I open my eyes,
I’m cutting up parts of myself simply to hand them over to you.

So, shake the dust and take me with you when you do
because none of this has ever been for me.
All the pushes and pulls, pushes and pulls, pushes and pulls,
It pushes for you…

For this is yours. This is yours.
Make my words worth it.
Make this not some poem I write…
Walk into it, breathe it in.

Now, Jesus . . .

Calling those who hear what he says in the Sermon on the Mount to be people who not only “say” (Matthew 7:21-23) and “hear” (Matthew 7:24-29) what he preaches, but to construct their metaphorical houses on the rock these words impart.

Build your foundation on the pieces cut from Jesus found in his brilliant sermon meant to inspire you and ordain you to be flava and gleam in a world that is tasteless and dark.

Build your foundation on the rock of these words of Christ, for when the storms of life come, they will give you strength to stand.

Work in his words.  Breathe his words.  Live his words so well that dust does not have a chance to settle.  Or, as Mogjani states:

Let it crash into the halls of your arms…
Making you live, so that when the world knocks at your front door,
Clutch the knob tightly and open on up and run forward and far into its widespread greeting arms with your hands outstretched before you,
Fingertips trembling though they may be.

Thanks to Aaron Monts who turned me onto this video on his blog and for being an all around good man.  Check him out here.

I recently read Rob Bell’s, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, a book which, before it was released had Christian leaders rejoicing at the demise of a preacher who was preaching heresy (which I think is ridiculous; not only because I can point to some of their teachings and call them heresy, but because, why is it okay to rejoice in anyone’s demise, ever?).

Now to the book. . .

Rob Bell, in this book, does what Rob Bell does well; namely, he asks questions (in this case about God, heaven, hell, the afterlife, etc.).  He does not claim any of his theories to be absolute truth or that he owns the topic of God.  Rather, he asks questions for people to wrestle with in community because as he says in the introduction, “I believe the discussion itself is divine.”

A few thoughts to spark questions (in Rob Bell’s words) . . .

  1. “Eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts now.  It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death” (Pg. 58).
  2. “There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously” (Pg. 78).
  3. “To be clear an untold number of serious disciples of Jesus across hundreds of years have assumed, affirmed, and trusted that no one can resist God’s pursuit forever, because God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest of hearts”  (Pg. 108).
  4. “Whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it” (Pg.111).
  5. “While we may get other opportunities, we won’t get the one in front of us again.  That specific moment will pass and we will not see it again.  It comes, it’s here, it goes, and then it’s gone.  Jesus reminds us in a number of ways that it is vitally important we take our choices here and now as seriously as we possibly can because they matter more than we can begin to imagine.  Whatever you’ve been told about the end – the end of your life, the end of time, the end of the world- Jesus passionately urges us to live like the end is here, now, today” (Pg. 197).

This book came highly recommended to me and I have to admit that after I read it, I was disappointed.  The plot centers around David Ponder, a man who possesses a gift which enables him to speak with people from history.  He is charged to have a “summit” with several great leaders from history to save humanity.  They only have seven chances to meet and come up with an idea of what humanity can do to go on.

The good: The book had some interesting stories and some good quotes from history.  Also, the final answer which ended up saving humanity is not the predictable phrase one would expect in reading a book like this.  I liked how those answers were all given in the previous chapters and ended up being the wrong ones.

The bad: Each chapter, which you knew would end with the summit giving the wrong answer, seemed to drag on with much dialog and I found myself always wanting to skip all of it so I could get to the answer they gave, which, again, I knew would be wrong.

Bottom line: The story line was not that interesting; it was predictable and, at times, tedious.  But at the same time,  it offered some good thoughts from history and the final answer, I felt was a good one.

Thank you to Book Sneeze for giving me a chance to review this book.  These opinons are my own.

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