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.

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.

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?

“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.

Drastic

January 25, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:21-30

Jesus calls disciples “blessed” when they are “poor in spirit,” but he refuses to leave them in that state.  The moment we receive salvation, Jesus starts to pull us out of our poverty towards his heart.

Having called the disciples to a righteousness that surpasses the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), Jesus goes on to explain how they should go about living this life in a 27 verse long debate with the teachings of these men.  In each of the sections, he quotes them (“You have heard that it was said . . .”) and follows with his thoughts (“but I say . . .”).  In each, he turns their attention to what really matters: their hearts.

In Matthew 5:21-30, Jesus breaks the sins of murder and adultery down into their most fundamental state: emotions.  He states that our thoughts, not just our actions, matter and they are subject to judgment too.  One cannot say, “Yes, I hated him, but at least I never murdered him,” or, “Yes, I desired her in an ungodly way, but at least I never committed adultery with her.”

Jesus is not being literal with his suggestions for how to deal with sinful desires, (i.e., leaving our worship service to be reconnected with our brother whom we have slighted, and gouging out our eye/cutting of our hand if they cause you to sin).  Rather, he is prescribing drastic actions be taken on our part to dig these seeds up before they are allowed to grow.

What drastic actions do you need to take to uproot the seeds of sin in your life?

Fulfilled

January 18, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:17-20

Followers have been blessed and have been given a charge (salt and light).  One might think at this point that Jesus is doing away with the old ways of law.  Not so.  Jesus must have anticipated people thinking this because he immediately points out, all of history (the law and the prophets) were not now abolished; all of history was pointing to himself.

Then, he talks, in verse 18, of a time when “everything is accomplished”, where the law, heaven and earth will disappear.  He is saying here that he is leading us to another destination; one that is different than everything we know to be true.

In the verses following, Jesus sends us back to the law, not so we can earn our salvation, but so that we can allow the Spirit to bring our hearts closer to the heart of Christ.  As John Stott says, “The law sends us to Christ to be justified and Christ sends us back to the law to be sanctified.”

Bottom line: God created us good, we fell, Christ redeemed us on the cross and brought us in to live in his kingdom.  We should not view the law as a checklist of things to do or not do to get saved (Jesus already paid that debt), but a way to join Christ in his ongoing work to shape us, form us and call us back to the people we were originally created to be.

Beautiful.