what i’m reading: Jesus wants to save christians

Category : God, bible, book review, faith, feeding my brain

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Reading the Bible is one of the most difficult things for a Christian to do.  It’s challenging because it takes discipline to read it every day.  It’s far too easy to get busy and let it slip.  On top of that, a lot of Christians find it kind of boring.  And lets face it, there are parts that are exactly thrilling.

Of course that doesn’t mean those parts aren’t useful or important.  It’s just that this isn’t exactly the next Harry Potter.  Because of things like this, many Christians never read the Bible.

I personally love reading the Bible.  It has re-shaped my understanding of who God is.  And the more I study it, the more I realize the Bible is real.  I’ve written about my own experience reading the Bible many times.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times that I feel myself struggle to stay focused.

There are days when I would like to read the Bible written in a bit more contemporary style (such as The Message).  I’d also like to read a Bible that was chronological, as the Bible skips around a lot (at least if you read it cover to cover.)

That’s where Jesus Wants to Save Christians comes in.

Authors Rob Bell and Don Golden write, in what they call, a New Exodus perspective.  To boil it down, New Exodus refers to the fact that Jesus led a new exodus for Christians in much the same way that Moses led an (old) Exodus for Jews.

Prior to reading Jesus Wants to Save Christians I hadn’t really considered this before.  I knew the details, and I even knew some of the similarities.  But I had never taken the time to really consider what that looks like.  Or what that would mean for my life.

And it’s this life change that we’re most interested in here at R3.  That’s why I was so intrigued by Jesus Wants to Save Christians.  It provides a useful framework for understanding our own journeys, and our own lives.  And it’s built around four major events within Jewish history.

  1. Egypt - Egypt was a place built on the concepts of slavery and oppression.  It was a country that didn’t value people.  That didn’t value God’s creation.  And didn’t value life.  As the book describes it, “Egypt is what happens when sin builds up a head of steam.”
  2. Sinai - Sinai is where God breaks his silence (up to this point he had only spoken to a few people).  Now he’s speaking to everyone.  It’s during this time he truly sets his people free.  It’s about grace, forgiveness, compassion, love, trust, and caring.  It’s about getting a new beginning.  It’s about all the things Egypt wasn’t.
  3. Jerusalem - This was God’s kingdom.  A chance for people of faith to show the world what it means to live a life of faith.  But it all fell apart.  Sin crept back into the story and Solomon, instead of using his wealth and power to advance God’s kingdom, used it to create luxury and palaces for himself.  Or as Bell and Golden say, “in just a few generations, the oppressed have become the oppressors.”
  4. Babylon - Exile.  That’s what happened here.  Israel was destroyed by their enemies and the Jews go back into exile.  Exactly where they started many years before in Egypt.  Exile is all about forgetting your purpose.  It’s about losing sight of why God has given you blessings – not to gain wealth and power, but to use wealth and power to advance the Kingdom.

It’s these four things that stick in my mind.  These events may have happened on a grand scale.  But it also happens on a very individual scale.

How many of us have been rescued from a figurative Egypt?  Maybe we lived in terror from someone who abused us.  Or we lived a life consumed with sin, lust, and temptation that took us to a very lonely place.  Or maybe we were just consumed with greed, and found our lives destroyed by money.  And yet, for some reason, God rescued us from our personal Egypt’s.

The danger in all of our relationships with God is losing sight of that miracle.  It’s forgetting the grace and forgiveness.  The world is crafty, the enemy is smart, and we will get tricked (all too easily) into becoming the oppressors.  Instead of showing the world what it means to live out a life of faith, we show them exactly how not to live.  And so greed, lust, temptation, abuse, anger run rampant in our churches and our lives.

It’s that structure that I take from this book.  It helps me see this pattern in my own life.  And encourages me to stop it at all costs.  I don’t want to go into Exile.  I don’t want to forget the amazing things God has done in my life.

As you can tell the thing I liked most about Jesus Wants to Save Christians is how it provides a new way of looking at the Bible.  The Bible is one of the best ways we can connect with God.  And anything that helps to improve that connection, that relationship, is worth pursuing.

A word of caution though.  I found this book difficult to read.  Not because it was complex or heavy.  But because of the writing style Bell and Golden use.  Let’s just say it’s “choppy.”  Fortunately this isn’t an English class, so we don’t need to grade them on that.  But if you’re going to read it (and it’s worth reading) you should know what you’re getting into, grammatically speaking at least.

the nines leadership network: final thoughts

Category : faith, feeding my brain, living a life of faith, sharing faith, taking action

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It’s been a couple days since The Nines leadership event / conference / webcast.   In that time I’ve heard a few people say sitting through the conference was a bit like drinking from the business end of a fire hose.  And I think that’s a fair description.  70 speakers in 9 minute chunks is a lot of information.  What’s more is that many of these speakers were world-class teachers.  Meaning they know who to give you relevant, useful, important information.  I personally felt I needed to write down everything that was said.  (I didn’t.  I just felt like I should.)

So now I find myself thinking about how I want The Nines to impact me.

There is simply too much information for me to use all of it.  There’s too much information for me to even process.  But what unique concepts can I bring out of it?

For me I think there are two major points.

  1. Everyone needs rest.  This theme has been a cornerstone of conversation for R3 for the last few weeks.   It’s no wonder that it resonated with me at the conference.  God built a Sabbath into our lives for a reason.  Maybe we should use it.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be different.  Sometimes I hesitate to take a chance because I think “maybe I’m too young to take that leadership role” or “I don’t have a degree in theology.”  But those are just excuses.  We saw a cast of speakers from all ages, all backgrounds, and all “looks.”  We don’t need to belong to a special club to teach or to follow where God leads.

The Nines reminded me once again that it’s important to be exposed to a vibrant community of faith.  It’s easy to forget, in our highly secularized world, that God is moving powerfully all around us.  We can easily believe that we are a lone island.  Yet God was moving in so many stories.  How can we realistically believe that he’s forgotten or abandoned us?

The Nines was an amazing experience.  I wish that I could have seen all 70 speakers.  But I am thrilled to have been exposed to the ones I was.  I think The Nines is going to have a profound impact on my life, on R3, and my community.  To me that’s the definition of success.

The only thing that remains is to go and do something about it.  Learning to live out a life of faith is one part knowledge (that’s the learning component), but there’s also the action piece.  We need to live out what we know.  That’s as true for me as it is for you.

I plan on living out the lessons I’ve learned from The Nines.  How about you?

the nines: leadership network

Category : God, faith, feeding my brain

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Today was spent watching The Nines.  A web-based conversation about the church.  Here are a few things I picked up from The Nines today.  Not all of these are earth shattering, but they are all good things to hear multiple times.

  • “A movement of God cannot be planned but must be prepared for.”  – Perry Noble I think this is true.  We can prepare for God.  But how would we plan for the crazy things he does on a regular basis.  How could we prepare for Moses who had no leadership experience.  How could we prepare for God to turn Paul into a leading evangelist?  We can only prepare to move when we need to.  We can’t force God to move when we want him to.
  • “We often equate large with legitimate” -  Skye Jethani Almost all of us fall into this trap.  When God is as big as he is, it’s easy to expect BIG miracles.  In fact, that’s what we see a lot of in the Bible.  Being big often means God is involved.  The danger is in thinking that large always equals God.  Or that small always means God isn’t.  Many of the Old Testament Prophets were lone voices crying out to Israel to repent.  They may have had a small impact, but they were still legitimate voices of God.
  • What burden would be lifted from our lives if we rooted our identity like Jesus (Jesus Identity rooted – that he was beloved Son of his Father.) Skye Jethani
  • “If our church went away, would the crime rate go back up?” – Jorge Acevedo I love this.  The Church should be a leader in all fields, science, advancement, healing, compassion.  If your church isn’t making a significant impact (however that looks for you) in your community, you’re not doing something right.
  • “What is the condition of your heart – above all else, guard your heartNancy Beach There is a definite theme in The Nines of leaders needing a break and to watch their lifestyle.  I know I have recently felt in over my head.  Even though I am doing amazing things for the Kingdom.  God won’t ask you to burn yourself out – so don’t ask that of yourself!
  • Stephen Furtick -  I don’t know anything about him other than what I heard on The Nines.  But I found him refreshingly hilarious.

continuing education in faith

Category : faith, feeding my brain, taking action

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Tomorrow I head to The Leadership Summit hosted by Willow Creek.  Then I head out of town for a week to visit friends and family.  On top of all this I am preparing for fall lectures.  Which means that there’s a ton of things to do, and not enough time to do them in!  (So it’s business as usual, right?)

But it got me thinking: how do you make time to improve your skills?

One of life’s challenges is finding ways to continue your education in the face of your day-to-day responsibilities.  But if you don’t continue to learn new skills you become stagnant.  In fact, you may find your job eliminated all together if you don’t continue to improve your skills.  Insurance companies used to hire “alphabetizers” to put records in order.  That’s not a job much in demand thanks to databases and computers!

The same, I think, is true of faith.  You need to continue to work on your faith education.  Not because you’ll be downsized or become obsolete, but because the less time you spend building into your faith education, the more likely you are to run into problems.  Just like your professional life, your spiritual life will become stagnant if you don’t work at developing your faith education.

Keeping an active relationship with God takes work.  And if you’re not putting in the time, then it’s no wonder if you find yourself drifting away.

That’s why I am so excited about tomorrow.  This will be a good opportunity for me to continue my education in faith.  I hope you will consider doing the same.

what i’m reading: Faith & Doubt

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Category : God, different, faith, feeding my brain

  

I grew up never questioning what I was told about God.  I just accepted everything at face value.  Especially the part about “if you’re good everything will work out.”  So when I suffered a horrible set back in college, my faith shattered.  It simply couldn’t withstand the onslaught of doubt and questions.

It wasn’t until years later that I found a rekindled belief in God.  This time, instead of taking everything at face value I was filled with questions.  Is the Bible real? Is it relevant to my life? Why doesn’t God prove he exists? If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around, does it make a sound?  I knew I could never believe in God until I wrestled with these questions.

To me questioning your faith can be one of the most important things you do.  I slowly learned that despite what I had been told, God never intended for us to hide our heads in the sand.

Likewise he never intended for us to act as if we had all the answers.

The story of Job cuts right to this matter.  Despite all of Job’s suffering he never learns why his life fell apart (it was a wager between God and Satan).  Even though God spoke to him and helped him come to terms with everything, God never revealed the reason why.  Job could have speculated all he wanted, but it’s unlikely he ever would have come up with the real reason.  Job didn’t have all the answers.  And his friends, who thought they had all the answers, turned out to be wrong as well.

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”

This is why John Ortberg’s new book Faith & Doubt appeals to me: I don’t know everything.  And yes, that’s hard to admit.

For most of us the words “faith” and “doubt” are separated by miles.  They couldn’t be perceived as more opposite.  We’ve been told we should never doubt any aspect of our faith has left us feeling guilty when we have questions.  Instead of addressing our doubts, we let them slowly erode our faith.  Is that how we’re supposed to feel?

Life is filled with difficulty and ambiguity.  And God doesn’t always give us clear cut explanations.  Just ask Job.  Yet we still need to operate in the midst of all this confusion.  As Ortberg points out, faith isn’t about 100% certainty.  It’s not about theological perfection.  It’s about going that last step, based on what you understand.  It’s about taking that “leap of faith” not because you know everything, but because you’ve come to some good conclusions based on what you do know.  Faith is about trusting in who God is, not what principles you have surrounded yourself with.

Faith & Doubt is filled with great information, good illustrations, and intriguing arguments.  As a whole I personally find it compelling.  But none of that is what I really take away from the book.  What I take away is something simpler:  it’s okay to have questions.

Which takes us right into R3’s mission (learning how to live out a life of faith).  This is rarely neat, and often a messy process.   We don’t always get directly from point A to point B.  Sometimes we need to ask questions.  Sometimes true exploration of faith raises hard issues.  At least that’s what’s happened in my own relationship with God.  As I struggle to understand what it means to live out a life of faith, I find I have questions.  That I have doubt.

Sometimes this doubt is significant (did God really kill people because he was angry?)  And sometimes this doubt is more trivial (Did Adam and Eve really live for hundreds of years?)  If I allowed myself to focus on the fact I don’t know everything, my relationship with God would end.  How could it continue?  If my requirement for true “faith” is 100% certainty, how do I console a family who loses a child when they ask if God is a loving god?  How do I reach out to the hurting when you expect theological perfection?

You can’t.

That’s why I will always have some doubt.  But I will also always have faith.  After reading Faith & Doubt, I no longer see faith and doubt as words separated by distance.  Instead I see them as part of the complicated picture of who God is. 

And I’m okay with that.

what i’m watching: fireproof

Category : God, feeding my brain, hope, love, taking action

 

I saw this movie with some hesitation. 

As a rule I’m not a fan of things marketed as “Christian” to “Christians.”  Especially when it comes to entertainment.  ”Christian movies,” in my experience, tend to have extremely cheesy plots and low entertainment value.  Of course it doesn’t need to be this way, I just think it is this way.  But my girlfriend had been pushing to watch Fireproof for a few weeks, so on Valentine’s day I relented. 

Like most things involving God, I was surprised.

Fireproof is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.  That’s not to say the acting was top notch.  It wasn’t.  And the production values were pretty low.  But this movie touches on something.  It’s bigger than the sum of its parts.     

The story revolves around a couple who’s marriage is falling apart.  Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron) is a firefighter who’s better at putting out fires than saving his marriage.  When his wife demands a divorce, Holt turns to his father, who asks him to take “the love dare“  - a 40 day journal describing how God wants him to treat his wife.

I’m not going to pretend the movie’s plot was original, or that it’s somehow ground breaking.  Rotten Tomatoes gave Fireproof a 37%.  That’s not very good.

But as I alluded the strength of the movie isn’t in the story line, the acting, or the production values.  The strength of the movie is the fact that we can all identify with the characters.  We’ve all been hurt by someone we loved.  We’ve all felt that betrayal, and the anger that comes with it.  We all long to be loved.  And I believe we all long to know God.

I found myself completely identifying with Caleb and his demand for respect.  While my girlfriend completely identified with Caleb’s wife (Erin Bethea) and her longing for love. 

The primary focus of R3 is how you live out a life of faith, and Fireproof offers a perfect illustration of this.  The characters do enough “wrong” things that it’s easy to blame either one of them for the situation.  Just like in real life, no one is perfect.  We all do things that damage relationships.  The world tells us we should repay violence with violence, sarcasm with sarcasm.  But what we see through Caleb Holt is someone who wants to act out in anger towards his wife, but chooses to do something else.  And it’s through that “something else” that his marriage is saved.

That’s what it means to live out a life of faith.  We must choose to live differently, to live for something else.  And in doing so, God transforms us. 

 

 

 

what i’m reading: The End of Reason

Category : God, bible, choice, faith, feeding my brain

 

One of the goals of R3 is to present an intellectual side to faith.  So often people have the idea that you must have “blind faith” to follow God.  But that’s not the case.  God never asks us to stop using our minds or to stop thinking.  He asks us to trust him, not become brain-dead.

But not everyone sees Christianity this way.  Some people question the reliability of the Bible.  Others question the sanity of believing.  Not long ago Sam Harris, an atheist, challenged the existence of God, and therefore the validity of believing.  In his book The End of Faith, Harris argued that since there is suffering, there can be no God, because God would never allow suffering.  And if he did, he’d be a horrible God, and therefore unworthy of belief. 

Those are pretty heavy charges.  And to be honest, on the surface they seem very compelling.

That’s where The End of Reason comes in.  Ravi Zacharias responds to those challenges and lays down an intellectual and philosophical argument for the existence of God. 

Somewhere along the line, we’ve decided that people who have faith can’t use their mind.  That’s probably the polite way of saying it.  But that’s not what I’ve discovered.  I’ve found that the more I use my mind, the more I work at problems, the more I study the issue, the stronger my faith, the more I believe.  That’s the value of The End of Reason.  In one short (it’s only 128 pages long) book, Ravi Zacharias lays out a strong argument for not only the existence of God, but for the existence of the Christian God. 

He starts by arguing for a Christian worldview based on the ideas of origin (where do we all come from), meaning (what’s the point?), morality, and hope that assures a destiny.  Zacharias argues that when atheism is challenged on those points, it can’t come up with logical and consistent answers. 

I’ll be honest, I didn’t find everything in this book convincing.  But I don’t think that’s the point.  If you talk to any scientist, he or she will tell you that no theory gets 100% of the evidence.  It’s not always about certainty, it’s about which side has more evidence. 

That’s where faith comes in.  There will never be a way to prove with 100% certainty that God exists.  We just need to take the evidence we have, use our minds, and allow faith to take us the last bit. 

In that regard The End of Reason is an excellent start.  Ravi Zacharias presents a compelling argument that counters the general arguments of atheism, and Sam Harris’s specific arguments.  Living out a life of faith is about being willing to ask tough questions, and listen for hard answers.  It’s about not shying away from the unknown.

what i’m watching?: The Golden Compass

Category : God, feeding my brain, sharing faith

   

The Golden Compass is set to hit theaters this weekend to much fanfare.  And it’s not just Hollywood Hype that’s driving this movie’s appeal.  If you follow the news at all you’ve probably heard that many Christian groups are encouraging people to avoid this movie. In a way that’s understandable.  You see, the whole point of The Golden Compass (and the two following books) is to debunk Christianity.  The author of the books, Philip Pullman has said as much in various interviews.

Well I’m going to suggest something different.  I say if you are interested in this movie, you should go watch it.

We are not, in any way, helped by avoiding things of this nature.  There are three good reasons why:

1.  Christianity has withstood centuries of literal, physical, attack from groups throughout history (e.g., Romans, Communists, Barney the Dinosaur – okay, maybe not Barney).  Christianity has done quite well in these cultures.  So I think God will be able to handle a Hollywood movie.  

2.  But more than that, God wants us to ask questions, because questions deepen our faith.  Every question I’ve had about Christianity has ultimately strengthened my faith.  When I search for an answer, I find that something amazing happens: I move closer to God.  Not because I’m talking myself into something, but because God is always willing to give us proof of who he is.  Because of this, I’ve found an answer to virtually every question I’ve ever asked.  Even when I don’t find a perfect answer, I’ve learned that there is an answer out there, I just don’t know it!  God wants us to know him, and the only way we can really do that is to engage our brains along with our hearts.

3.  Those of you who consider yourself Christians already, ask yourself this, “how do you intelligently discuss a movie you’ve never seen?”  How do you help your friends understand how God differs in real life from the god of The Golden Compass if you’ve never seen it?

I consider the Da Vinci Code one of the greatest opportunities Christians have had to share their faith.  What better way to enter a discussion about God then when someone comments on him!  I wonder how many opportunities were lost because people refused to watch a (mostly bad) movie.

So I say if you want to watch The Golden Compass go for it.  If you aren’t a Christian ask yourself “what questions do I have?” and “Does the movie accurately represent who God is?”  Then search for answers.  If you are a Christian, go see it so you can talk intelligently about it when someone you know brings it up.  And maybe you can help someone find those answers. 

what i’m reading: Jesus Among Other Gods

1

Category : Bible reliability, Jesus, bible, book review, feeding my brain

   

I think it’s safe to say that we live in a very pluralistic world, where ideas from a wide variety of cultures are shared and believed.  Who among us doesn’t know someone of a different faith or philosophical background?  But that pluralism isn’t limited to just religion or politics.  Choice is everywhere, including our toothpaste aisles!  Because there are so many options out there, sometimes it’s difficult to define our reality, and so we’ve all heard someone ask, “what is truth?”  

Of course it may not matter with toothpaste.  I suppose they may even all be the same.  But is religion?  Do all religions somehow end up at the same place?

That’s the question Ravi Zacharias takes in Jesus Among Other Gods.  Zacharias tackles some of the biggest questions facing religions (Is there a God?  Does God cause suffering?  Is God knowable?) and shows just how Christianity differs from Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Atheism.  In each chapter he discusses the Christian view and then compares it to one (or more) of the other major religions.  By showing that the religions believe very different things on these topics he argues that it is impossible for all religions to be the same.  Either God exists or he does not.  Either God sent his son Jesus or he did not.  If God exists Atheism can not be true.  If Jesus is not God, then Christianity can not be true.

Christianity is often presented as a religion based purely on faith.  But that’s not true.  There is certainly something to be said for “divine revelation” and “understanding through faith.”  Those things help Christians better understand the world.  But God didn’t leave us with only those tools.  He also gives us historical evidence and eye witness testimony. 

I don’t know about you, but I am very much concerned about the truthfulness of Christianity.  I want to know if Jesus was real, or if it is a hoax.  Frankly I have no desire to live my life believing in something that’s a sham.  And that’s what I enjoy about Zacharias’ approach.  He uses logic and reason to make the case for Christianity.  He puts together compelling arguments that answer tough questions.  And in my mind this book definitely proves that all religions are not the same. 

what i’m reading: Chasing Daylight

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Category : book review, feeding my brain, revolutionary

   

Erwin McManus’s first book, The Barbarian Way, is the most important book I’ve ever read.  I know it’s considered “bad” to say this, but it has been more important to me than reading the Bible.  Without The Barbarian Way I never would have read the Bible, let alone seen the beauty of it.  McManus has a way of presenting an idea that fundamentally alters the way you view the world and God.  As I’ve often said on this site, I grew up believing God was this safe, quiet, wimpy thing.  I thought that to be a Christian you had to be a push-over.  The Barbarian Way shattered that view and showed me that being a Christian is this radical, dangerous thing.

In a similar way Chasing Daylight (formerly known as Seizing Your Divine Moment), has completely reshaped the way I “listen” for God to answer my prayers.  In the past I always thought I had to get a specific “yes” from God before I could act on anything.  Instead McManus argues that God has already given us a “yes” on a lot of things.  We have been told to spread the message of Jesus.  We’ve been told to love our enemies and care for the hurting.  We’re already supposed to help one another and support those in need.  We don’t need to wait for a “yes” when we want to do these things – we already have it.

To illustrate this point, McManus uses the story of Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14.  Jonathan was bold and aggressive when it came to pursuing God’s will.  You kind of have to be when you decide to charge an army with just two people.  But he also recognized that God’s will often takes us to dangerous places that may cost us everything we have.  Jonathan knew full well God may not save him saying, “Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf.”  Perhaps?!  Perhaps?!  If I was about to engage in a life threatening endeavor, I’d want a bit of a stronger word than “perhaps!”

But Jonathan represents a model of action.  He worked under the assumption that God had already said “yes” and promised victory to Israel.  He wasn’t waiting for a reconfirmation of God’s word, Israel already had it.  Jonathan knew that victory was just waiting to be grasped.  When we choose to take action McManus calls this “seizing your divine moment.” 

This is such a foreign idea to me that it was hard to accept at first.  But I quickly realized just how revolutionary it was.  We need to flip our usual way of listening for God.  Instead of waiting for “go” we need to assume we have permission to act.  What we really need to listen for is God to say “no.” 

I’m not sure exactly how this idea will shape my life or R3.  But I do know it is going to fundamentally alter how I respond to people as a Christian.  In fact, even before I finished reading Chasing Daylight I knew God was asking me to seize my first divine moment by giving the book away

Chasing Daylight is an amazing book that really challenges us to change our lives.  I don’t usually recommend books to people – I think they should choose to read them (or not) on their own.  But this is a book that I believe everyone should read.