Even a Broken Clock is Right Twice a Day.

As my wife and I settled in for movie night, the romantic comedy He’s Just Not That into You unfolded on the flat screen. We followed the somewhat interconnected relational missteps of nine people for 129 minutes. As the credits neared, the narrator, or narratress as the case may be, finally divulged the movie’s thesis.

Finding true love is the exception to the rule, the unexpected twist in life’s third act” It seemed that this romantic tragedy which have been theatrically reproduced is the norm, or so we were told. “Maybe we are so focused on finding a happy ending, we can’t learn how to read the signs. How to tell those who want us from those who don’t, the ones who will stay from the ones who will leave. Maybe a happy ending doesn’t include a wonderful guy. Maybe it’s you, on your own, picking up the pieces and starting over . . . maybe it’s just moving on.

Or maybe the happy ending is this. . . knowing that through all the unreturned phone calls, broken hearts, blunders and misread signals, pain and embarrassment, you never gave up hope” With the narratress’ final thought ringing in my ears, the music score surfaced and ended poignantly.

Save me”

How does this statement on 21st century love and life fit on a ministry blog? Glad you asked. This picture of dysfunctional love and life is on daily display, front and center in the main gallery of our culture’s lifeflow. To a great extent, what Christian’s would call broken life has become normal life of the dominant, post-Christian, post-modern social order we call contemporary. This new normal is the culture we, as Christ followers, are called to engage.

As Christ follows we are called to disciple the nations, not to separate ourselves from this emotionally damaged generation. For when we do, we thereby communicate that we are somehow better, and by comparison the hurting person is somehow less. This isn’t the way Christ interacted with his world . . . the woman at the well in Samaria, Mary Magdalene, Simon the outcast tax collector.

Yet even in the movie’s sadly narcissistic and slightly damaged conclusion, the writer sowed a small seed of truth. Life isn’t about the happy ending, or about what you get out of a relationship. Life is about finding wholeness. After that pearl of great price is unearthed and understood, a person is ready to share that life, and his or her own, with another. Thereby we become a blessing, instead of demanding to be somehow fulfilled and completed by another. Before we can give we have to receive.

As Christ followers, we know, and have the source of that blessing in our midst. We know personally the One who will genuinely love and never leave. We meet in closed circles to discuss Him, learn about Him, and make sure we are really part of His group.

Yet the world is still wondering, wandering, lost and needing to be saved.

Will we break out of our comfort zones? When will those outside the walls of our churches hear that real love is not the exception th the rule. When will they see? When will we go and tell them . . . with our lives, our actions and our words?

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Be the Surprise – Who . . . Me?

be the surpriseAuthor Terry Esau creates a second refreshing look into active Christianity, and the unexpected journey it can become. Be the Surprise is his second book, following God Surprise Me (2005). Terry’s writing style seemed a bit ADD-ish at first. His book is a collection of short stories, poems, song lyrics and anecdotes supporting the title, asking God to be active and make him the surprise in other people’s lives. After digging into his personal history, I discovered that before becoming an author, Terry wrote commercial jingles. His resulting adjunct writing style doesn’t detract from the book, but rather creates a fun and unexpected delivery, like a memorable bit advertising a new soda pop.

Terry’s theme revolves around giving and receiving. As Christ followers, while we are called to give to others, it seems we easily become focused on receiving. Terry calls giving and receiving Siamese twins, co-joined at the heart. You can’t fully have one without the other. As he talks about his journey from God Surprise Me to Be the Surprise Terry also makes a comparison to the natural process of breathing. A person inhales, which is like watching God work in your life. Exhaling completes the cycle as we take what god has given us, and give of the living waters to someone else. You can’t have one without the other.

The body of the book retells examples of those who chose to be the surprise, and the lessons Terry collected along the way. Almost living parables, Be the Surprise gives the reader uncomplicated illustration of how to be the surprise and unexpectedly give of God’s life. On p.22 Terry quotes one of the people he met along his journey. A woman in a restaurant who bussed tables and washed dishes said “You can’t do good without being good. And God is the good in me.” Through another incident, he was reminded that often Christ followers try too hard to be religious, and impress or influence others. Our goal should be to become transparent, and genuine. Ultimately we are the gift, Christ living in us. We can influence the world and build His kingdom: inhaling and exhaling, giving and receiving.

Terry’s book is a wonderful example of how a Christian’s faith can influence the world, and I recommend it highly. We aren’t called to be blow torches setting the world on fire, or theatrical search lights piercing the night sky in front of some retailer’s sale of the decade. Christ followers are a light set on a table, a city on a hill by which others can find their way home.

Building Racial Harmony – Who Starts??

Racial harmony isn’t the result of the EEOC, NAACP, diversity policies in hiring practices or affirmative action quotas. Racial harmony is birthed when people of different backgrounds, racial, religious, ethnic, or social learn to respect one another and the differences inherent in those who are raised in significantly different social settings. It can’t be legislated, and won’t grow from seeds of anti-discrimination laws. Racial harmony comes when we choose to make friends across racial / social / economic lines, and walk with each other, in the others shoes as it may be. For this reason, the responsibility and opportunity to build racial harmony belongs to the Church, to followers of Jesus Christ.

Linda Leigh Hargroves has a number of step by step approaches for Christ followers to engage the process of building racial harmony. As a woman of color, her advice is genuine, and comes with the realization that when diverse individuals or groups meet, there are suspicious, assumptions and prejudices on both side of the conversation. As a result, predictable pitfalls lie in the path of both parties.

I recommend you visit Linda’s blog (http://llhargrove.com/), especially if you are a Christ follower. I believe heaven won’t be a segregated place, but will be a wonderful melting pot of cultures, peoples and faith. Our Christian faith isn’t just about what happens after a person dies. We have the opportunity to live a transformed life here, now. Jesus said the Kingdom of heaven is among you. Shouldn’t we be about the business of building a community which will reflect what we will find in heaven. Linda’s advice will help you pursue a colorblind Kingdom.

“Confessions of an Insignificant Pastor” Book Review

Confessions of an Insignificant PastorWho sets the image of what is ‘normal’ in a Christian’s life and experience? Where does the place of transparency reside in a Christian’s life when our culture promotes accomplishment, size and performance? Pastor W. Mark Elliot, in his recent book Confessions of an Insignificant Pastor confronts the image of what too often is the ‘rugged individualist’ Christian persona. In its place, he reveals a transparent, genuine, real “pastor from nowhere, just a nobody from zip code 47492,” and he’s in good company.

I spoke with Pastor Mark. He said this book came out of a sensed call to put the message on paper. In a few days, alone on personal retreat, Mark recorded the lessons which had been birthed out of a “winter season of pastoring. It’s a negative title on a positive book.” When I asked him to identify the most important take-away, Pastor Mark replied, “Unplanned is a part of life. God call isn’t to achievement, but to faithfulness. After 28 years of ministry, my best accomplishment is that I have been faithful, I refuse to quit. I have found that God is still present in all of life’s circumstances.”

The book’s 16 chapters flesh out the image of a transparent man. Starting with “ I’m a Nobody from 47492”, to “I Work too Much” and “People Get on my Last Nerve” Pastor Mark openly shares his heart. Life is hard at times. We are all human, and walking through life as a Christian doesn’t mean the valleys will be filled in and steep hills leveled before we arrive. The climb (up or down) is taxing. Mark’s message is that our God goes with us, and we are not meant to walk alone.

The book is well researched, and Pastor Mark correlates a modern Christian’s similarity to men / women of the Bible. David was a nobody before he was king. Joseph was an arrogant teen, Jacob a manipulative entrepreneur, Moses a murderer, and the list goes on. The key, Mark writes, is that we begin to see ourselves the way God really does. We have value because we are his people, and we are meant to do life together rather than (pretending to) be a rugged individualist.

Each chapter ends with 3-5 questions meant to prompt discussion and reflection. The book, like life, is better when it’s shared. These questions flow well into discussions for small groups, and explore how we can become more genuine, authentic Christ followers.

I recommend this book highly. Too often we allow an image painted of what a Christian ‘should’ look like when the only real answer is this. A Christ follower should look like the One he or she is following. The lessons in this book will move the reader toward becoming genuine, transparent, authentic and real in their faith. There is a risk involved in this kind of lifestyle, but the alternative is to exist without really living.

by: Timothy Burns

Now Blogging for NavPress and Tyndale

Editor Timothy Burns is now blogging and reviewing new releases for Tyndale House and Navpress Publishers.

How Can I Run a Tight Ship Book Review

tight shipReleased early 2009 by New Hope Publishers, Kathi Macias’ How Can I Run a Tight Ship when I am Surrounded by Loose Cannons? is a light hearted look at discipleship from an experienced Christian writer. During our interview, Kathi described the book as “discipleship with a grin.” As I easily consumed the book’s message, I would have to agree. Like Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar, the sometimes thick discipleship message is a joyful read in this book.

Kathi said her inspiration for the book was a conversation with a trusted friend. “How can I run a tight ship when I am surrounded by all these loose cannons?” quipped Kathi. She told me she immediately paused. “That’s too good of title to not have a book attached to it,” and the merry title gave birth to an equally playful book.

Kathi builds the book on a metaphor which follows a person’s growth. First we crawl, then walk, and run. Hopefully as a Christian eventually we learn to fly as with wings of eagles (Isaiah 40.31). After these experiences we often learn that the most important place for a Christians is on our knees, back on our knees, in the same position we began our journey.

The book is woven with stories of women who influenced Kathi’s life from that of a young Christian to a mature believer. After coming full circle, Kathi realized that quite often she was the loose cannon. She needed to trust her Father more. By following the example of other, equally loose cannons around her, she found balance. These women helped here see that having the details of life lashed to the deck isn’t always God’s plan. He works through imperfect people who have learned to rely on Him in their weakness. A hard lesson for a person with a High D, Type A, Choleric personality like Kathi.

Overall, I recommend this book highly. We need to laugh at ourselves as we apply the lessons of discipleship. Kathi has woven together anecdotes and vignettes from her life which lead to laughter with a purpose. As proverbs says, a merry heart does good, like a medicine. (Prov 17.22)

Forged in the Fire – Shaped by the Master book review

forged031Often people do things haphazardly then justify their actions with these words – God knows my heart. The truth of the matter is – He really does.

“Forged In The Fire – Shaped By The Master” speaks to the issue of heart matters by bringing readers face to face with reality – we are ordinary people who can be used by God. How and to what degree depends upon the condition of the heart.

Author, Tim Burns has presented a study that invites its participants to the table of choice and self examination. Throughout this twelve week course the lives of four men chosen by God to lead Israel are examined. It is the presentation of the lives of King David, Joseph, King Saul and King Hezekiah that we come to see a little, (if not a lot) of ourselves.

Many today are hard pressed to see how biblical circumstances can be applied to their stressful conditions. “Forged In The Fire – Shaped By The Master”, through practical application, skillfully speaks to those concerns.

As with the aforementioned rulers, we too have choices. Examining circumstances and choices made by the biblical leaders shows the consistency of human nature and the faithfulness of God. David and Joseph sought to serve God with pure hearts. Saul and Hezekiah deviated from righteousness causing other to suffer the consequence of their choices. God’s response to each upheld the righteousness of His eternal word. As it was then, it is now.

Regardless of your station in life and level in your spiritual walk, “Forged In The Fire – Shaped By The Master” clearly shows that God has chosen you and wants you to chose a right relationship with Him.

-Dr. Linda F. Beed, D.R.E., author of “Business Unusual”
Flavah Reviewer