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?

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).

Vending Machine

April 2, 2011

So often we treat God as if he is our personal vending machine.  We pray that he will bless us, give to us, do ____ for us, etc.  And, we offer up our 50 cents.

When we are “happy,” we are content with this god and we find it simple to sing songs and preach sermons about the goodness of this god.  We read verses like, “Ask and it will be given to you…,” and we shout, “Amen!”

Then it happens.  They kick you out, he leaves, it does not solve your problems, you were diagnosed with thatshe says those words.  Not only does the vending machine break, it is as if it has vaporized.

At this point, those words of Christ ring hollow; doubt creeps in.  To people here, Christ urges to keep seeking and knocking and then points to us, who love to give good gifts to our children—if we act in this way, how much more will God give good gifts to his children?

When your vending machine god breaks, remember:

  1. You are unable to count the number of good gifts from God you take for granted everyday.
  2. Perhaps you have asked for a stone or a snake and God wants to give you bread or a fish (v.9-11).
  3. Jesus is always asking, seeking and knocking for you (Revelation 3:20), he is asking you to do the same (v.12).

Dentists and Pearls

March 17, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 7:1-6

I dread going to the dentist.  It is not the stylings of Celine Dion in the waiting room, the metal scrapers or even the screams of the children in other rooms.  It is the judgments towards my personal hygiene I receive.

“You need to floss more . . . drink less coffee . . . go to the dentist more . . . etc.”

I understand it is a dentist’s job, but the problem is, the only thing I want to hear them say is, “No cavities today!  Great Job, Mr. Tomeo!”  I don’t need a lecture.

I wonder if the same reason I don’t want to go to the dentist is the reason many people don’t want to go to church?

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, just got done teaching us how to entrust ourselves to God (don’t worry, don’t store up treasures in heaven, etc.), now he teaches us how to entrust others to God.  Essentially, he says:

  1. God’s job is to judge (make eternal decisions about peoples’ souls); let God be God (v. 1-2).
  2. Only when your desire to be God is gone, can you help someone get rid of his or hers. (v. 3-5)
  3. Some people cannot appreciate the pearls (truth) you have, so don’t throw any to them (v. 6).

How are you making eternal assumptions about people in your life?  What planks need to be removed from your eye so that you can help others remove their specks?  Where are you throwing pearls to people who have no idea what to do with them?

In a world where Christian practices have a tendency to become repetitive and redundant, Nora Gallagher writes The Sacred Meal.  In this work, she details her journey of practicing the Holy Meal and recounts her significant experiences at the Table.  She encourages the reader to look past the ordinariness of the bread and wine and past the doctrinal squabbles that have a tendency to overshadow the sacred.  She invites the reader to be fully present (with all our sins, with all our questions, with all our doubts, with all our victories) at the Eucharist of Christ so that we will be free to experience the glorious mysteries that surround it and use our experiences at the Altar to propel our work for the kingdom.

I found Gallagher’s work to be both insightful and challenging.  I appreciate that she does not dwell on the various doctrines that people hold for Communion and focused more on what it means to experience and remember Christ.  It is a simple read as it is mainly biographical and does not rely on big theological words to get her point across.  She simply presents her three-step approach to Communion (the waiting, the receiving and the afterward) and attempts to persuade the reader that communion is not something that can be mastered, but a place we should return to often so that we can exercise our Spiritual muscles and have experiences of the Holy in our world.

I would recommend to anyone who has ever come to the Table of Christ in a passive manner or who has interest in Christian practices that you take a look at Gallagher’s work as it is a practical and extremely readable guide to an event that we participate in often, but might not think deeply through often enough.

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

“Farewell Rob Bell?”

March 7, 2011

If you follow the Christian culture at all, I am sure you have seen this video or read something similar to this (a blog post which has made the insinuation that author and pastor, Rob Bell, has come out of the universalist closet and claimed there is no such thing as hell).  Several people have asked me my thoughts, here are a few of them:

  1. He is trying to sell a book – Rob Bell is a superior marketer.  I am pretty sure that at least some of this is ginned up controversy to sell more books (he is currently number 13 on Amazon and his book is not even out yet).  I will reserve my full judgment until I read it.
  2. God is bigger – God is bigger than anyone’s bad theology.  Man’s wisdom is foolishness to God; I know that I have built some of my boxes to put God in too small.  God is bigger than Rob Bell and I trust God’s influence in this world over Rob Bell’s.
  3. God is indescribable – Bell is doing what any of us can do.  He is trying to put words to an indescribable God.  Of course his words are gonna fall short.  When people start worshipping their words about God and not God, that is when they get into trouble.
  4. True victims – The true victims of this book teaser (remember, the actual book has not come out yet) are not the unsuspecting non-Christians who have read the pieces or seen this video.  Whatever Rob Bell writes, it is a shame what this book teaser has made some other Christian leaders say about a man who simply has opinions.

Thoughts?

What Matters?

February 15, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48

I think it wise to review Christ’s counter-intuitive teachings so far in Matthew 5.  A few weeks ago, we looked at Jesus’ words on anger and lust in Matthew 5:21-30—your actions matter and they are born in your mind; a citizen of heaven must work on his mind and, if necessary, take drastic measures to do so.  Last week, we discussed his thoughts on divorce and oaths in Matthew 5:31-37—God is in a marriage, but actually, he is in everything we do and everything we say; a “blessed” one knows this and lives as though it were true.

Now, we come to Jesus’ teaching this week (Matthew 5:38-48) on revenge and love for our enemies.  He calls us to the impossible.   Not only does he call us to turn the other cheek to someone has struck us, but he follows it with this thought: “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly father is perfect.”

Seriously?  Who can do this?  What man or woman can claim that they are perfect?  Does this not go against his earlier thought of us being, “Poor in spirit?”

When looking at these teachings of Jesus, remember the following:

  1. Jesus fulfilled the law.  You are not under law, but grace.  God looks at us and see Jesus’ blood, not the ways we do not measure up.
  2. We are called to be imitators of Christ who when he went to the cross and endured, not just humiliation and physical harm, but the sins of all mankind.  And, what better way to bring the flava and gleam of the present tense kingdom of heaven than to imitate the One who bore such shame and pain on our behalf?
  3. Jesus’ interest is always that our hearts be tuned to him.  These teachings, when brought into our hearts, allow us to be pulled by Christ into the people we are supposed to be, not pushed by our past sins (which is harder by far).

May these teaching be accepted into your hearts and may you allow them to draw you closer to Christ’s heart.  May you not see them as more ways in which you do not deserve to be called “blessed” (you will never deserve that).

Divorce and Oaths

February 7, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:31-37

Jesus has pronounced us “blessed” (Matthew 5:3 – see teaching here) and has turned his attention now to dismantling the “ladder to God’s blessings” set up by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  Since, as we learned a few weeks ago (here), Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, and his blood has bought our righteousness in the sight of God and makes us “blessed” already, this ladder they wanted set up does not exist.  The ideas Jesus is putting forth do not give us more law, they give us freedom to live in such a way that we can spread the blessings of God to everyone.  Having dealt with the thought life of followers (here), he now speaks to how we should deal with people.

On divorce (Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:1-12): The teachers were obsessed with how to obtain one, but Jesus says, “Your spouse is not a piece of property to be done away with on a whim.  Marriage was ordained by God at creation and almost nothing (with the exception of adultery) should separate two that God has joined together.”

On oaths (Matthew 5:33-37): In Jesus’ day, if two parties were making a deal and a person said, “I swear by God’s name that I will follow through on the terms of our agreement,” the person felt an extra push to come through on his part of the bargain.  However, if a person did not invoke God’s name, he did not consider his part of the deal to be binding.  Jesus is saying here, “You cannot take God out of anything you do; he is in everything already even if you don’t want him to be, therefore do what you say you are going to do.”

Recognize the progression here: God is in a marriage, but actually, he is in every conversation we have and a “blessed” one should know that and live as though it were true.