Posts Tagged ‘blogging the book’

Group Blogging Project: Simple Church (Chapter 8)

This is my contribution to a group blogging project using Simple Church.  Essentially, a blogger writes/reflects on one chapter and hosts the discussion on their blog/website over the course of two weeks.  Go to Andy’s website for links to the previous chapters/discussion or the last one (chapter nine).

Without further a due my reflections on Chapter 8 “Focus:  Saying No to Almost Everything”:

Yesterday, I had the chance to go out to eat with a friend and leader.  We went to a typical American chain restaurant with reliable food.  As often happens, I arrived at the restaurant with my stomach growling.  I didn’t have a clue ahead of time what I wanted to eat.  As a result, I flipped restlessly through the menu.  The problem, apart from my hunger, was the multitude of options that were before me.  In addition to the menu, there were a couple of other special menus with even more choices.  You would think that all the choices would make it easy, but in this case, it actually made it difficult to decide what to eat (I eventually settled on a burger & fries – living on the edge, I know).  Same thing happens when we go to get deodorant from the store – so many brands, smells, and promises.  Even though my problem is relatively simple (I’ll stink without it), all of the choices can make something easy – difficult.

The same multitude of choices is being introduced into the church to satisfy a consumer-oriented & elevated culture that feasts regularly upon fast-food diets and wants church the same way (more choices, faster response).  The authors call this “fast-food spirituality” and say that this approach is killing our churches.  It requires us to “say no to everything” that does not fit into the simple process of disciple making & building.  And constant vigilance, evaluation, and courage are required to say no.  But “[f]ocus is a truth taught and affirmed throughout Scripture. The focus of individuals in the Bible is humbling, and principle of one thing emerges…focus is the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process.”

The authors suggest the following helps to maintain focus:

  1. Eliminate:  eliminate programs/ministries that are not directly related to a designed discipleship process.  I appreciate that the authors acknowledge the great difficulty in doing this.  It is far better to be simple to begin with, than to try to go back.
  2. Limit Adding: Though it may be hard (and necessary) to eliminate, it should be easier to limit the addition of new events, programs, or ministries. The difficulty here is when the new thing is designed to meet a real or perceived need.  And sometimes new feels very appealing (ah, this is what will help us grow…).
  3. Reduce Special Events: “In general, simple churches are so focused on their ministry process that there is little time for special events.  Special events would get in the way. They would distract.”  The difficulty in this is similar to the problems in numbers 1 & 2 – eliminating somebody’s ministry and the appeal of a special event.
  4. Easily Communicated
  5. Simple to Understand:  The point with both points 4 & 5 are that a discipleship process is that cannot easily understood or communicated is by nature not simple and therefore will not keep the church focused on a simple process.

Focus requires saying no – and even saying it a lot.  This, to me, is the great difficulty.  I don’t like to say no and not many of us want to be the ministry killjoy.  Maybe we could borrow something from the world of pro football.  Every team has that guy that the players striving to make the team avoid at all cost.  He’s the guy that asks for the playbook and tells you you’ve been cut.  Maybe we could have a guy like that in the church:  “I’m sorry your ministry has been cut.  Hand in your keys to the church.  Don’t worry, Jesus still loves you.”  Err, maybe not.

Seriously, as a pastor in a small church, the notion of focus (and simplification more broadly) are challenging.  In our church, we have a lot of people who work really hard to serve the church and the Kingdom of God.  As a result, they are fulfilling the call and command of God in many ways.  At the same time, I often see tired people too.  What is appealing to me about focus and simplification is the ability to free people from the burden of ministry and channel them into the joys of ministry because they know what we are doing is essential to the life and growth process of the church and they are a vital part of that.

But even more than focusing on process, I want people to learn to focus on the Gospel on a daily basis.  Then maybe we can talk about process in a much healthier way.  But I guess that’s another book.

Your thoughts?

Group Blogging Project: Simple Church

I am participating in a “group blogging project” on Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger’s Simple Church.  Essentially, a group diverse group of bloggers will each take turns hosting a discussion on a chapter of the book over the next two weeks.  I will be hosting the discussion on chapter nine eight, next Wednesday.  To read more about this and to see the schedule (with links to the other bloggers) go here.  And to read or join the discussion on the first chapter go here.

A Journey Worth Taking: Part 5 – Consummation

With Part 5 (Consummation: The View from the Top) of A Journey Worth Taking, we reach the last part of Charles Drew’s book.  In previous sections, Drew helped us to see the implications of Creation, The Fall, and Redemption on our purpose and calling in this world.

There were a couple of thoughts that jumped out at me in the first three chapters of this section:

  • “We seemed to be hard-wired for the future”.  This is true even thous we struggle with our view of the present and find it hard to hope for a different future.  But there is something more to this life and more to come – our hopes serve to confirm this and direct us to the Object of all of our ultimate longings.  (Chapter 15)
  • We are functional secularists.  “We have bought the line that this is the only life…we are desperate to keep our options open because, deep down, we believe that this is the only life – or lest the only life in which fun and interesting things happen.”  Understanding the consummation – the completion of God’s redemption in our lives and in this world – should help us to understand that we will live in this life best, by living in light of the ultimate purposes and promises of God. (Chapter 16)
  • There is a good reminder in chapter 17 about the importance of relationships and people.

A Journey Worth Taking: Redemption

I missed a post last week, though I kept my reading schedule.  Anyway, this post will cover the three chapters in the section “Redemption: Help Along the Way”.

You can read more about what I am doing and see a schedule for reading/posting here.  First post is here.  Second post is here.  Third is here.  The fourth is here.  The fifth is here.

The three chapters (12-14) that make up this section on Redemption have been some of the best of the book so far.  This section follows Drew’s discussion of the impact of Creation & the Fall on our calling and our purpose in this world.  Here, we find great encouragement to pursue calling in light of a renewed relationship with God through Christ’s work on the cross.  This caught my heart’s attention:

With people I am usually either safe or known – but rarely both at the same time.  I am safe, in other words, because they don’t know the real truth about me…Jesus changes all this…With, and because of, Jesus the Redeemer I am both fully known and completely safe.  At the cross, Jesus met me at my very worst.”

These are sweet words to read, because I think we know the truth of the first statement.  And from here, Drew declares the freedom that we experience to discover ourselves and our calling.  In this way, we find our identity from our Redeemer rather than from a broken self-image or response to shaping of others.  But this isn’t about a second chance or Jesus setting us back on the right path with everyone holding their collective breaths in the hopes that we don’t fail again.

The Second Adam [Jesus] is our powerful Friend, into whose wise hands God has placed all things, for our good…It is not enough to have a friend ordering our circumstances.  We need this friend walking alongside us as we make our way.  More than that, we need this friend inside us, changing our motives and removing our fears, so that we learn to grow through the sometimes traumatic circumstances he orders up.”

And then comes the paradox of Christian calling:  we will find ourselves more fully in relation to the shared calling of God’s people to look for and work for the coming of God’s Kingdom and the return of shalom (this is not so much about personal peace, but universal harmony and flourishing).

“…if the Caller is busily at work restoring harmony everywhere, then I must be involved in that task wherever he has placed me.  For I will know myself only as I labor alongside my Maker.”

What a powerful reminder about what life can and should be about – a life that is caught up in the work of the Redeemer; a work that is personal, but is so much larger than that too.  I am thankful for these words from this book.

A Journey Worth Taking: The Fall (part 2 of 2)

You can read more about what I am doing and see a schedule for reading/posting here.  First post is here.  Second post is here.  Third is here.  The fourth is here.

In chapters 10 and 11, Charles Drew in A Journey Worth Taking, concludes his probing of the effects of the sin of man on the way that we approach work, purpose, and life in general.  Chapter ten describes some of the symptoms of how our calling and sense of that calling has gone wrong;

  • Delusions of grandeur or innocence
  • Delusions of worthlessness
  • Ingratitude masquerading as modesty
  • Isolation brought on by competition
  • Envy

As I reflect upon these symptoms, I find that it isn’t just one of them that is a problem, but that all of them can operate in our hearts and lives depending on the situation.  The end result is the same: frustration at best and at worst what we really want…to be the center the cosmos rather than God.  These themes show up in our work (including school) where we “tend either to devalue work or make it too important.”  Towards the end of chapter eleven, Drew makes this statement that stood out for me:  “When we give our lives away to any created thing – however good that thing is – we begin to die on the inside.”  This goes back to the topic of idolatry and I wonder how many of us are really dying because we have done this?

A Journey Worth Taking: Fall (Part 1 of 2)

You can read more about what I am doing and see a schedule for reading/posting here.  First post is here.  Second post is here.  Third is here.

In A Journey Worth Taking, Charles Drew is using a “theology map” to look at the topic of calling and purpose.  Drew moves from Creation to Fall in chapters 8-11  and these are the chapters we’ll consider the next two weeks.

Regardless of whether someone accepts the biblical teaching on the Creation and the fall of man, we all know that something is not right with us and with our world.  It is virtually undeniable.  Drew writes in chapter eight:

The doctrine of creation fills us with enthusiasm and hope as we set out to find our place in the scheme of things.  And then we bump into ‘real life.’…What’s wrong?  We are fallen creatures living in a fallen world.”

Drew goes on to describe some of the ways that we experience the fall in our lives, particularly with regard to our calling:  this includes nature, relationships with people and institutions, and our own fallen nature (“Nature sabotages calling, we sabotage each other’s callings, and we sabotage our own callings”).  In short, we find ourselves frustrated in our calling and our labors because of the reality of our falleness.

In chapter nine, Drew delves more deeply into the crux of our own sabotage:  idolatry.  I think he makes a particularly germaine point here about the way we allow our secondary calling or self-discovery to “eclipse” our primary calling to love God.  As a result, both aspects of calling are misplaced – not to even mention the call to service.  Again, I think this something most of us can understand and see, both in ourselves and in others.  Particularly convicting for me, was the section on how this can be just as true for those in full-time vocational ministry – nope, we’re not immune to this either.

Any thoughts or questions from those reading along?

A Journey Worth Taking: Creation (part 2 of 2)

You can read more about what I am doing and see a schedule for reading/posting here.  First post is here.  Second post is here.

I love how Drew is directing us in chapter six to make God the priority of our lives – that that will be the most meaningful way for us to “find ourselves”.  This, again, is counter to the current notion of self-discovery that pushes us out to the edges instead of to the center of all life.  Or the notion that I (and I alone) am the definitive voice for all notions, whether they be about who I am or what I will do.  In discussion Psalm 34:3 (“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exult his name together.” – KJV), I loved the following statement:

How strange this language is when you think about it.  Isn’t God already big – isn’t he already infinite?  Indeed he is.  The problem lies with us.  For multiple reasons we have difficulty seeing his greatness and therefore must train our vision.  We also have difficulty giving God center stage and therefore must train our hearts.”

This then leads to Drew coming back to the notion of all work being sacred and therefore we can “worship while we work…Our pursuit of calling unfolds in God’s world, not ours.”  And finally there is this thought:

Our calling…is ‘missional’ – not in the narrow sense of going into foreign missions (though it might include this), but in the much broader sense of finding and promoting him in everything we do.”

How rare I imagine that this is in our lives and how often we miss the opportunities to see God, let alone promote God in everything we do.

This article (an interview really) on byfaithonline fits nicely with the topic of this book.

(I will probably post separately on the topic of chapter seven, “Finding Ourselves in Community”)

A Journey Worth Taking: Creation (part 1 of 2)

You can read more about what I am doing and see a schedule for reading/posting here.  First post is here.

In A Journey Worth Taking, Charles Drew is using a reformed framework for looking at the story of Scripture with a big lens:  Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation.  Drew calles this a “theology map” to take us the right way when appliedEach is a reality that we know or will know and each becomes a helpful means for thinking through the big picture of our lives before the Living God.  Naturally, we start with Creation and from this place I think Drew offers some very encouraging thoughts to engage us as we think about our purpose in this world (that is the subtitle after all).  We’ll consider this section in two parts, starting with chapters three through five (six and seven next Wednesday).

Creation matters.  My creation matters – that is, Who made me and how I was made goes down to the core of who I am.  We don’t often think like this, but Drew directs us to Psalm 139 to be reminded of this beautiful truth:  “If I matter simply because I am God’s creature (and I do) how much more significant must I be because I am made in God’s image.” And at the end of chapter three, Drew pronounces this:  “We matter, in other words, even when we are completely clueless as to what we have been placed to do on this earth to do.”

In chapter four, Drew introduces the concept of lifework:  “By lifework I mean the entire business of living out my existence in the presence of God.” For many, this will include our employment, but more so “it inludes the whole man’s engagement with the fullness of the life that God had set before him – large things and small things, social things and intellectual things, noted things and ignored things.” This, to me, is a decidedly different way to look at life and work – bringing them together, presenting a much bigger and whole picture of our lives.  This then, allows Drew to challenge the traditional notions of what is a “good work” or even a “good job”.  This does not lead to devaluing legitimate work, but actually enlarges the idea of work and that our work (whatever it might be, paid or unpaid, fulfilling or frustrating) matters.  In this way, we model the Creator God who made us in His image.

Drew then, in chapter five, challenges the sacred/secular divide that we have become comfortable with in the church.  From Drew’s perspective, “all work is sacred…God shows up everywhere”, stemming from the doctrine of creation that is the content of this part of the book.   Admittedly, this can make people (both Christian and non-Christian) uncomfortable.  Both might prefer God to stick to the “known” arenas of life (like at church on Sunday) and not spill into other areas (like vocation or music or lifework).

What encouraged or perplexed you?  What ideas are new to you?

A Journey Worth Taking: Staging Points

This is the start of the next “blogging the book” using Charles Drew’s book  A Journey Worth Taking:  Finding Your Purpose in This World.  You can read more about what I am doing and see a schedule for reading/posting here.

The preparation for a journey can be just as important as the journey itself.  In the first section of this book, “Staging Points”, Drew appropriately takes a moment to deal with some vitally important details before delving more deeply into the idea of calling and purpose in this world.  Before the discussion about those precedes, Drew directs us to a few key thoughts in Introduction.  This stood out to me:

We enjoy unbridled freedom and seemingly unlimited options, but they exist in a social milieu that has no coherent ‘story’…In the absence of a story that connects us to what is going on around us (and to other people), life grows lonely and its purpose often shrinks down to the hollow and even frantic pursuit of whatever pays the biggest dividends (emotionally, spiritually, or materially).”

I think this is true to what we see happening in the world around us.  For believer and non-believer alike, we are facing a loss of meaning and satisfaction with the status quo.  This morning, I read a similar thought in an article by Andy Stanley:  “…it’s human nature to gravitate toward the familiar.  And left to themselves, virtually every person and organization is in a subconscious pursuit of the status quo.  Eventually they will find it.  And they will work very, very hard to stay there.”  So, Drew is challenging in this book what he calls “business as usual” (or the status quo).

Having said that then, there is another big picture question to address:  “what sort of universe do we live in?”  If we are going to talk about calling, then we are necessarily talking about a Caller.  Chapter one largely centers around Drew’s discussion of the existence of this Caller versus the prevailing worldview of the larger world.  The thoughts here presented reminded me very much of Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God.  They are both rational and consistent with the teaching of the Bible.

In chapter two, “What Is Calling?”, Drew provides a framework for calling at three levels.  I had not thought about calling on these levels, but found they make sense to my life and of those around me.  Calling, then as defined by Drew “carries through every season and circumstance of my life, and has more to do with who I am and with how I do what I do than with what I happen to be doing.”  And three levels, which can operate simultaneously, further open up the meaning of calling:

  • Primary Calling:  God first calls us to himself and to people
  • Secondary Calling: God calls us to self-discovery
  • Tertiary Calling:  God calls us to service.

As a pastor, I have had to think about calling and even stand before presbyteries and explain my sense of calling to ministry.  Furthermore, in these circles, we talk about the necessity of internal (do I feel called to ministry) and external (are others calling) calling.  But here, Drew has presented  a much fuller concept and one that transcends the concept of calling that has often remained stuck within vocational “Christianity.” Beyond that, the order or priority of calling that Drew has identified is often reversed in our culture.  We start with what we should do and we might get around to who we should be.

One other thought that really jumped out at me and would love to think more about in relation to the church is this:

…the most effective way to pursue self-discovery (secondary calling) is to serve (tertiary calling).  In other words, if I set out to discover myself, my search will be frustrating.  If on the other hand, I set out to serve, I will begin to discover things about myself along the way.”

That’s quite a different thought than “I’ve got to go find myself…”.

Please share your thoughts/questions in the comment section.

Running Scared: Final Post

Read about what I’m doing here (including the schedule for posts). Part one here.  Part two here.  Part three here and here.  Part four here.  Part five here.  Part six here.  Part seven here.

This brings us to the end of Edward Welch’s good book, Running Scared, with the reading of the last few chapters.  Again, as with the other chapters of this last section, there was not a lot new material, but still a lot of good reminders. Mostly, I was reminded of what I liked about this book as a whole:

  • The idea of Kingdom allegiances and how this is a fight that I will face in my life, especially in light of my fears.
  • Similarly, my fears can actually be good indicators of where that fight is taking place if I am willing to listen to what my fears say.
  • Welch is refreshingly real and honest in his writing of this book.  I particularly liked the “personal response” at the end of each section.
  • The Cross of Christ is held up for us to see, understand, believe, & trust again and again.  I find I need this constant reminding.
  • Like Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker,  did for me in addressing my reactions/relationship to conflict, this book has helped me think about my fears, worry, and anxiety.
  • As I mentioned in an earlier post, I appreciated the biblical teaching and how Welch connected the dots across the biblical story.
  • I am asking different questions now…questions like:  “what does God call me to right now?”  and “how do I hope?”  (these were discussed in the last few chapters).

If you have been reading (the book or posts), thanks for joining on this journey.

Don’t forget the next blogging the book on A Journey Worth Taking.

New Blogging the Book: A Journey Worth Taking

As we wrap up our reading of Running Scared next week, I wanted to throw out the reading schedule for the next blogging the book.  This quarter, I will be reading through Charles Drew’s book A Journey Worth Taking:  Finding Your Purpose in This World.  Drew is pastor of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan and at Calvary we used his book An Ancient Love Song: Finding Christ in the Old Testament in Sunday School a few years ago.    Table of contents for this book can be found here (pdf file).  Feel free to join me, whether you read along or not.

Here is the reading/blogging schedule:Blog posting schedule for book (Wednesdays) & Sections covered; chapters in parentheses:
October 1st – Part 1:  Staging Points (Chapters 1-2)
October 9th  – Part 2:  Creation:  A Quest with a Built-in Purpose (3-5)
October 15th – Part 2 continued (6-7)
October 22nd – Part 3: The Fall:  Something Wrong with Every Step (8-9)

dont judge a book by its cover

don't judge a book by it's cover

October 29th – Part 3 continued (10-11)
November 5th  – Part 4:  Redemption: Help along the Way (12-13)
November 12th  – Part 4 continued (14)
November 19th – Part 5:  Consummation:  The View from the Top (15-17)
December 3rd – Part 5 continued (18-20)
December 10th – Part 5 continued (21 & Appendix)

Here is a book review written by one of the ruling elders at Calvary:

Jesus said:  “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). God has called us to purposeful and “abundant” lives. In our quest for purpose and meaning in life, we so often look for the extraordinary. In this book, Charles Drew leads us through an exploration of our “calling” to help us discover something of the wonder and awe of this abundance, but in unexpected places – the mundane matters of everyday life.  He weaves his exploration of calling around “four great ideas:
•    Human life comes with built-in purpose.
•    Something goes wrong with how we express our purpose.
•    What gets ugly and destructive can be remade beautiful and right.
•    What we do matters, because we are going somewhere.”
Drew spotlights the good news of Jesus and how it saturates our everyday lives (however mundane much of life seems to us) with purpose and meaning. Especially intriguing is the final section of the book.  It focuses on the fourth of the above ideas, showing us with how the prospect of heaven bears on our earthly journey.  Encouraging us to patient yet expectant looking for the consummation, he writes: The prospect of a perfect and endless eternity with nothing but harp lessons and clouds had no appeal.”  But he goes on to describe his change of mind about heaven through the teachings of C. S. Lewis and others, concluding, “How could the God who gave us sex, Michael Jordan, Rembrandt and the Grand Canyon–all in our present fallen world–give us something less interesting in the next?!”  Drew then adds, “With that vision of greater fullness came a peace of mind about the limitations of my experience and the limitations in my own present makeup.” Ever ponder the richness of heavenly life?

Drew infuses his unpacking of calling with helpful real life stories and anecdotes and adds challenging questions at the end of each chapter for personal consideration or group discussion. A refreshing read!

Running Scared (Part 7): God Speaks – Peace Be With You – 1

Read about what I’m doing here (including the schedule for posts). Part one here.  Part two here.  Part three here and here.  Part four here.  Part five here.  Part six here.

We are nearing the end of this “blogging the book” version using Ed Welch’s Running Scared: fear, worry, and the God of rest as we look at the first four chapters of the last section of the book (“God Speaks – peace be with you”).  The last chapters of the book will be covered next week.   In this section, Welch acknowledges that much of what he has to say is not new but an emphasis of some of the themes of this book.  While, in my reading of these chapters I found that to be true, I also found I needed to hear again these words.

Consider the way we tend handle people (children maybe) who need to hear things over and over again:  “how many times do I have to tell you!”  I’m sure those words have never been said in our household.  Now consider the truth of God that Welch is directing us to see and take in:  “God is patient and willing to walk slowly with us, all the while speaking even more persuasive words to our fearful hearts.”  I found it refreshing and encouraging to be reminded again that God is a God of great patience “and he is happy to repeat himself.”  Yes, that does help for sure.  Just as we regularly remind our loved ones of our love (in word and action), the Lord willingly reminds us of His great love for us – by His Word and by His action.

In the following chapters, I appreciated the thoughts on God’s covenant-keeping nature and the emphasis on how God’s covenant with sinful humanity is of no benefit to us.  We are the ones who benefit completely and in turn have opportunity to give glory and praise to God, but he doesn’t need a covenant with us.  I also appreciated the thoughts on prayer, especially the reminder of how it goes against the grain.  Prayer is made easier (not easy) when we recognize what keeps us from it.

Look for a post later today or tomorrow on the next book that I will be using for “blogging the book” (as well as the next Book of the Quarter at Calvary).

Running Scared (Part Six): On Death, Pain, & Judgment

Read about what I’m doing here (including the schedule for posts). Part one here.  Part two here.  Part three here and here.  Part four here.  Part five here.

I was listening to this episode of This American Life during our trip and one of the stories was about people who fear sleep because of the reality of death.  It was interesting to hear them reflect upon the rational nature of an irrational act.  That is, they are right, but they can’t go without sleep because of it.  In this section of Running Scared, Edward Welch addresses the fear that we have of death, pain, and judgment – though it seems that focus was mostly on the topic of judgment.  For the first time, reading this book, I was not completely captured by Welch’s discussion.  However, I did find many good thoughts and encouragements in these chapters.  Maybe its just me and where I am at this particular point in my life.

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