Good Lord Willing


There’s wisdom, and then there’s wisdom.

Back when I was working for Cottage Senior Living, I had the chance to interview a guy who was living at The Commons, the 55+ active-adult apartment community.

And while the gentlemen, Bill, was definitely in the 55+ category, he was also definitely in the active-adult category as well. Most notably, several years back, he had started skydiving for his birthday every five years. Most recently, he had jumped a couple of years ago for his 80th.

There were plenty more interesting parts to Bill’s story, like how he had built his own airplane or had the chance to fly a helicopter, and it made for a really good story for capturing the sort of people that might be interested in The Commons.

But as much as I loved meeting Bill and want to be like him when I grow up and loved his story professionally, the thing that really stuck with me was a story he told about his late wife.

One on of his skydiving adventures, he asked his wife to join him, and she agreed. She got all sorts of questions, he said, about whether she was too old and so forth.

What if something happens to you, people would ask her.

To which she would reply, “If that’s the way the Lord wants me to die, I’d better get up there and do it.”

Amen.

Review — “Mondays With My Old Pastor,” by José Luis Navajo


_225_350_Book.649.coverNo one is immune to having a crisis of faith. While we like to think of pastors as being virtual Supermen of holiness, the truth, of course, is that even they struggle at times. “Mondays With My Old Pastor,” by José Luis Navajo, is a picture of that struggle, told largely as a conversation between two pastors, one entering into those challenges and the other having walked through them over his long career. The book centers largely around old stories of varying degrees of familiarity, accompanied by discussions of how they can be applied in a walk with God.

While it’s easy to see how this book would be quite valuable to a church pastor, that includes a rather small minority of people. The lessons of the book, however, are broader in their application. Just as the main character of the book is comforted to know he’s not the first pastor to go through the struggles he’s dealing with, any Christian should take comfort in knowing that even leaders of the church deal with their moments of doubts. And even if the lessons about guiding a flock don’t apply to a particular reader, the books contains truths for anyone, about getting priorities right, about discipleship, about forgiveness. Some of the stories in the book may be familiar, but that doesn’t make them any less meaningful.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program.

• Thomas Nelson Product Page

Review — “You Were Born For This” by Bruce Wilkinson


9781601421838

“You Were Born For This” by “Prayer of Jabez” author Bruce Wilkinson, according to its subtitle, provides “seven keys to a life of predictable miracles.” How much you get out of the book depends largely on what you believe a miracle is.

The basic idea of the book is that God is wanting to do incredible things in the world today, and that He’s wanting to do them through His people, a basic tenet that I would agree with even prior to the case Wilkinson makes for it. If that’s the case, then, Wilkinson argues, we need to be willing and ready to do the work that God has for us. Again, pretty solid ground. If we are, God will use us, routinely, to do amazing things. This idea, and how to live it yourself, are the meat of the book.

And it’s some good meat. Some of the ideas Wilkinson presents are pretty straightforward and basic — be willing to serve God; seek His will; listen to others; be willing to care about and for them and their needs. Some of it is a somewhat deeper. I was personally challenged and plan to adopt his idea of the “God Pocket.”

I found myself questioning occasionally, however, how much of this was really universal. Is this really what God wants everyone to do? Does He really speak to everyone in this way? Or is this a calling and gifting He has for certain people? Wilkinson frequently cites Biblical prophets as examples of his ideas; is that because his ideas are for those with the gift or prophecy?

The book also, for all its strengths, seems to cheapen the idea of miracles somewhat. Biblical miracles were of a much more impressive scale than the ones Wilkinson presents here. Are we to believe that these sorts of God-driven coincidences are the best we should hope for in this modern age? I would like to think not.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Fake Church


Sharon Johnston Park

Sharon Johnston Park, where I didn’t preach a sermon Sunday.

This is going somewhere. Bear with me.

Up until four years ago, I was Southern Baptist, plain and simple. I’d really only ever been to Southern Baptist churches, with rare exceptions visiting friends, one Sunday at a time. That background was all I knew, and I was OK with that.

But four years ago, I was invited to attend a house-based congregation led by one of my former Sunday School teachers. And, long story short, I went. And that, in turn, led to a paradigm-shifting study as to what exactly “church” is. The issue was prompted by my then-coworker Heather, who argued that the home congregation wasn’t really “church.” We had several conversations as to what church is or isn’t and does or doesn’t have to be, and I did a fair bit of reading followed later by field research, with the upshot being that I have a very different sense of what “my church” is that I did four years ago, and one that is continuing to evolve and be challenged today.

But one of the asides to come out of it was that, due to Heather’s allegation that the home congregation wasn’t “real church,” I affectionately dubbed it “fake church,” not as any sort of disparagement, but as a nod to the fact that we were doing something that wasn’t beholden to preconceived notions. Greg was, in turn, my “fake pastor,” despite the fact that, in truth, he was more my real pastor than anyone before or since.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I’m at work at the Depot, and having a conversation with one of my co-workers, who is the head of a Civil War re-enactment regiment. He’s talking about an event that’s coming up, and notes that they don’t have anyone to preach that Sunday morning. When they do weekend-long events, they try to have a service so the men don’t have to miss church, but they were recently short a chaplain and so had no one to lead it.

I made the off-hand comment that I would totally do something like that. Matthew asked if I was kidding or not. I actually had to stop and think before answering that I was mostly kidding, I thought.

But the idea got stuck in my head, and I wrote him back that evening and said that if they found anyone remotely qualified, he should have them do it, but if it was going to make the difference between having church or not, I would do it.

So at some point last week, it’s decided that I’m about to preach my first sermon.

Talk about “fake church,” huh? An utterly “unordained” and unqualified guy preaching at a re-enactment. And, yet …

Now, rather than let there be any excitement about that, I will jump ahead and say that I did not, in fact, preach Sunday, due to a variety of factors including weather and low attendance.

But I did go through the process of getting ready, which was an interesting one. I started with the question of, “OK, David, if you were going to get to preach one sermon in your life, what would you want to use it to say?” And I realized that, while I had some ideas there, none of them really felt right for the occasion. So I changed my question to, “OK, then, David, if you were going to preach a sermon to a bunch of people at a Civil War re-enactment, what would you want to say?” And I did come up with a couple of ideas there, which eventually merged into one sermon.

That sermon isn’t really the point of this post, but I’ll say that it basically combined Ebenezer and the idea of living the gospel.

I’m a little proud of myself for being willing to do it, because it was very much stepping out on faith. I would like to think that I could have done it, and, ironically, would have liked to have heard the sermon that would have been preached myself. That’s not to say there wasn’t a little bit of relief on my part when I got the message the night before that they wouldn’t be doing it.

I have no idea if this the end of this story, or the beginning, if almost preaching was the point of the story, or was preparation.

But if you’re ever desperate for a preacher, I have most of a sermon ready …

Review: “Constantly Craving” by Marilyn Meberg


More.

The desire for “more” is seemingly an inescapable part of the human experience. It comes in many, many forms — the desire for more “stuff,” the desire for a new relationship (or one better than what we have), the desire for deeper friendships or purpose. Why? Why does this desire seem to be a universal part of being human? Where does it come from? What do we do about it? That’s the focus of Marilyn Meberg’s new book, “Constantly Craving.” Meberg, a professional counselor, examines both how these desires manifest on the surface, and what the deeper needs are that fuel them.

For the lay reader, “Constantly Craving” is an excellent introduction to the relationship between counseling and spirituality. With an accessible, personable tone, Meberg takes a counselor’s approach to examining and explaining a common driver in human behavior, the desire for more and better in life. Then, taking things a step further, she relates these counseling concepts to relationship with God — providing the answers to the questions of why humans are this way, where those needs come from, and what we do about them. Humans are constantly craving more, Meberg explains, because we are looking to meet an innate desire for the ultimate “more” — the perfect fulfillment of relationship with the Almighty Father. Veteran students of the link between human behavior and spirituality may not find much new in Meberg’s book, but for those seeking an understanding of why we are wired the way we are, “Constantly Craving” provides an excellent first step toward that knowledge.

(I received a review copy of Constantly Craving” from Booksneeze.com)

He Is Risen Indeed!


I guess I really kind of wrote my Easter post for this year Friday, but I will link back to the Easter manifesto post I wrote a couple of years ago.

I hope you and yours have a blessed resurrection day.

The Gospel of Job


This is not the blog post I was planning on writing.

The blog post I was planning on writing was called “Sometimes The Enemy Wins,” and it was going to talk about the fact that sometimes Satan does get his way, and what happens when he does. I may yet write that blog post sometime, but not today.

In it, I was going to write about the times in scripture that Satan tests people, including my favorite prayer in the Bible. But as I was planning that post, I got caught up on the story of Job, and got to thinking about it in a way that I never had before.

Job’s one of the better-known stories in the Old Testament. There’s this guy, Job, and he’s a pretty awesome and upstanding guy. So Satan comes up and visits God in heaven one day, and is generally putting humanity down, and God’s like, “You seen my boy Job? He’s pretty awesome.” And Satan says that Job’s only all about God because God treats him so good, and if that changed, Job would turn on a dime.

So God says, go for it, and gives Satan permission to test Job, to take away all the cool stuff he’s got and see what happens. So Satan blows up his sheep, and kills his kids and turns his skin into something out of a horror movie. And all Job’s friends come by and tell him he should admit it’s his own fault, and his wife comes out and says he should just curse God and die and get it over with.

But Job, true to God’s assessment, stays the course, and doesn’t curse God. And so, at the end, God shows up to talk to him, and Job’s all, “Dude, … the hell?” And God’s all “OK, look, I’m God, who are you? ‘Cause, um, yeah, unless you’re God, you really don’t have much ground to tell me I’m doing my job wrong, because you couldn’t begin to understand it, much less do it.” God, pretty much by definition, has to be a pretty humble guy, in as much as that He is, by definition, infinitely awesome, and thus can’t really do justice to how awesome He is without taking an infinite amount of time. But the end of Job is one of those rare times where He kind of points out, just a little, that He is, in fact, rather amazing.

And so Job is blessed with new sheep and kids and clear skin, and they all live happily ever after.

And because of this story, we hold Job up as a pretty commendable guy. Even those who don’t know his story may know his name from the phrase, “the patience of Job.” And we put this story down in the W column in the God versus Satan scorecard, and, while we perhaps acknowledge that it’s a messy story to deal with in some ways, chalk it up to the virtues of being virtuous.

But …

What I got to thinking about was, what if it wasn’t. What if this was one of the stories were Satan “wins”? What if Satan had been right, and when he took everything away from Job, Job says, “This is crap; up yours, God!”? How is it different? What do we do with that story then? Would it have even made the Bible with a different outcome?

And what I came up with is this — I’m not sure it would matter.

In fact, it’s really not hard to imagine pretty much the entire book playing out the same way, save that one small detail. God brags on Job; Satan tests him. His friends and wife all give their little pep talks. Job curses God. And God shows up once again and still says, “OK, look, who are you?” and still makes Job understand that His ways are not our ways, and that He is above our ability to comprehend; that it’s not our place to second-guess the job He does unless we fully grasp the job requirements. God still restores his sheep and kids and skin, and everyone still lives happily ever after.

Because, ultimately, the lesson is this — it’s not about us.

God doesn’t show up and tell Job, “Hey, man, great job; you deserve to have everything restored! Congratulations!”

God shows up and says, “Job, son, it’s not about you. It’s about Me. It’s about grace.” And then He demonstrates that.

And we love the other side of grace.

We love that when Christ died on a cross on Good Friday a couple thousand years ago, it meant that our sins, our failings, our fallenness don’t have to matter. It’s not about us; it’s about Him. He paid the price so that we don’t have to. And that’s a rather agreeable thing.

But we sometimes lose sight of the fact that the opposite is just as true. Grace also means that when Christ died on a cross on Good Friday a couple thousand years ago, it meant that our virtue and our good deeds and our righteousness don’t matter, either. If our good deeds mattered, then by definition our sins would have to also, since they affect our good deeds.

None of this, of course, is license to act without thought of Him and His ways; we follow His path not to earn anything, but because He laid the path out because it was best for us.

It just means that it’s not about us. It’s about Him. Our sins and our virtues, our failings and our righteousness, are all irrelevant; however good we are, it’s still not good enough to earn salvation. When Christ paid the price for our salvation, He paid it in full, with no room left for us to pay off any part of it through our own merit.

The Gospel of Job is this — in His grace, we don’t have to worry about the end of the story, because we aren’t the ones writing it.

Ultimately, it’s about Him.

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