Introducing the Missional Church by Alan Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren

My last book of the year for my goal was “Introducing the Missional Church by Alan Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren. This book is all about how a church can become missional and help change their community for good and the process that can be used in order to move from a church that is about attracting new attendees to a church that goes into the community and try to change it for the better regardless of how it adds to their membership.

I am not a pastor, I do not run a church and because I am leaving for Germany within the next few months (hoping and praying for this) I am not in a place within any church I read this with a slightly different mindset. I read this book thinking about how I can be missional as an individual in my new community in Germany. What I did then was change where the book said church and added myself.

This first quote basically sums up what the other half of my ministry in Germany needs to be about.

 “What is God up to in my neighborhood?” and “What are the ways I need to change in order to engage the people in my community who no longer consider church a part of their lives?” This is what a missional imagination is about.

The hardest thing for me is to figure out how to help my neighborhood, how to go about finding out what is the “right” way to go about doing that. Roxburgh and Boren relieved my fears when they said:

There isn’t one specific form, predictable pattern, or predetermined model.

I can’t wait to figure out the absolutely best and perfect way to do something, I just need to do it and if it helps people where they need help then it will be alright.

Notice that this illustration emphasizes the call of God to be his people in the midst of life, engaging everyday life in the neighborhoods where they live.

As soon as I move to my new community I plan on living life in a way of observation and action. If I notice someone carrying too many grocery bags, or dropping items, or anything else that I can help with, I will then take action and offer to help.

Offering to help will hopefully lead to conversations with no strings attached and conversations can lead to discussing God, but first it must start with observation and action.

Like I so often like to do, I want to leave you with a quote. A quote that can inspire everyone to be more missional in their everyday life. It doesn’t require you to do things you aren’t good it’s:

about doing local theology-waking up to our context and becoming God’s wonderful cooks with all the flavors and aromas of the local.

 

Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation by Richard Foster

At the beginning of the year I set a goal to read 15 “theology” books (check out more about my goal here and here). While it looks like I will only finish 11 of the 15 (the one today is number 10, but number 11 is almost finished) I am still happy with what I’ve done and decided to make a new goal for next year of 13 books with two in depth Bible studies in addition.

Today is all about the book Life with God: Reading for Spiritual Transformation by Richard Foster.

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If you are like me, you have read the Bible and know the stories pretty well. Even if you don’t know the stories too well, reading the Bible isn’t always the easiest, especially when reading through Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers, they aren’t exactly page turners! Even the more readily understood books like the Gospels can often be skimmed over and nothing gained from reading them. Another thing I have noticed is that “knowing” the Bible does not equate to being changed by the Bible and that is why I initially chose to read this book.

Those two things are what I want to highlight from this book today. I want to share Mr. Foster’s point of view and insight into these two topics.

It is not surprising, then, that study that focuses on knowledge alone does not lead to life transformation, which is the real human need.

The second common objective people often have for studying the Bible is to find some formula that will solve the pressing need of the moment. Thus we seek out lists of specific passages that speak to particular needs rather than seeking whole-life discipleship to Jesus.

When we read the Bible we need to do it with the mindset of being transformed by God’s Word and not just reading it to check off our list of things to do.

So how do we know if we have been transformed by reading the Bible? Mr. Foster says:

the test of whether or not we have really gotten the point of the Bible would then be the quality of love that we show.

The outpouring of love on others, whether we know them or even like them, is the true test of whether we have been changed. And how do we do that? Mr. Foster says we need to work on the spiritual disciplines in our lives which include:

fasting and prayer, study and service, submission and solitude, confession and worship, meditation and silence, simplicity, frugality, secrecy, sacrifice, celebration, and the like.

A Spiritual Discipline is an intentionally directed action by which we do what we can do in order to receive from God the ability (or power) to do what we cannot do by direct effort.

We need to do what we can in order to do what we cannot by the power of God. Studying the Bible for knowledge is good, but studying it to be transformed is better!

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

bonhoeffer_bookI love history and like most people who love history I love learning about World War II. I cannot tell you why World War II sticks out to me so much, or why I enjoy learning about it, but I do. When I first heard about Eric Metaxas’ book “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” I was intrigued, but had no idea who this Bonhoeffer was. The subtitle was what really caught my attention and then when I heard that Bonhoeffer was German and was a part of the resistance and attempted assassinations of Hitler, I knew I had to read the book.

When I tell people that I am going to Germany as a missionary one of the  most common questions I get is, what are Germans like? Most people that I come across in the US have this negative stereotype of all Germans as being mean, stuck up and stand-offish. When I tell them that they aren’t that way people seem to be confused, like everything they ever knew about Germans was all of a sudden the complete opposite. Sure there are some mean, stuck up and stand-offish Germans, but then again that happens everywhere in the world.

I think Americans struggle with the idea that a country that was responsible for things like World War II and the Holocaust could have good people living within it’s borders. That stereotype still exists for Germans, but even while those events were happening there were good, godly people within Germany who were trying to make a difference. That is why I loved this book. Not only did it give me background information on the amazing man and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but it also showed me that men like him struggle to do the right thing just like I do. A quote by Henning Von Tresckow (one of the organizers of the Hitler resistance and Valkyrie assassination plot) that Mr. Metaxas uses seems almost prophetic. He says:

The German people will be burdened with a guilt the world will not forget in a hundred years.

If you search the internet you will see many reviews of the book and if you have read any of my reviews on my site you will know that that is not exactly how I like to do things. I liked the book a lot, but I can’t sit here and tell you that you should read it when there are so many incredible books available to read. What I can and will try to do is highlights specific parts of the book and talk about them briefly and if something sticks out to you then I can say you will not regret picking up this book.

Bonhoeffer often worked with children and “he often said that if one couldn’t communicate the most profound ideas about God and the Bible to children, something was amiss. There was more to life than academia.”

I love this idea because if we can’t simplify the Gospel then do we really know it? I encourage everyone to work with children in their church and teach them, you won’t regret it!

“Where a people prays, there is the church; and where the church is; there is never loneliness.”

I can’t add anything to this another than an enthusiastic amen!

“the whole of world history there is always only one really significant hour—the present.”

This is hard and convicting to me because too often I am wasting the present. What are you doing right now for your family, for you, for Christ. Right now is what is important. We are not promised tomorrow!

There is no single quote for me to give you about how Bonhoeffer struggled with his decision to help with the assassination plot, but know that he did and please read the book if you are wondering how he did that. There is way more detail to that decision than I could possibly share here. I can tell you that I am looking forward to visiting some of the Bonhoeffer sites while I am in Germany and I want to leave you with a prayer that Bonhoeffer wrote while in prison. Let these words soak in you and be your prayer today and every day.

O God,
Early in the morning do I cry unto thee.
Help me to pray,
And to think only of thee.
I cannot pray alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with thee there is light.
I am lonely, but thou leavest me not.
I am feeble in heart, but thou leavest me not.
I am restless, but with thee there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with thee there is patience;
Thy ways are past understanding, but
Thou knowest the way for me.

Theology book #8 – From the Garden to the City by John Dyer

At the beginning of the year I set a goal of reading theology books, biographies of Christian leaders and other books that would help expand my knowledge of how the world should be seen through a Christian’s eyes. I am way behind the 15 books, but I will continue to read them until I get through this list and then I will start a new list, so in essence I will never be done! The most recent book I read was “From the Garden to the City” by John Dyer. This book was suggested to me by several different people who are missionaries, specifically in the technology arena. Since I will be a technology missionary, as we like to call ourselves (or maybe it’s just me), I figured this would be a good thing to read before I become fully immersed in the field. If you are curious about technology and how we should interact with it to impact the World for Christ then this book is a must read. Check it out!

In the description on Amazon it asks a question that sums up what this book is all about. It asks, “Where does technology belong in the biblical story of redemption?”

Any Christian living in modern times should be considering this question especially because of the more and more prevalent role technology is playing in our world. Technology is not only tablets, smartphones and social media though. Technology includes things we often don’t think of as technology including pens, paper and things we have been using all of our lives that seem “old school.” I never even really considered a pen to be technology, and yet it makes sense that it is along with many other things that I would not have considered technology before.

Why do we even need to consider this? Does it matter if we read God’s Word on a Kindle or the actual book? Who cares if we worship using a hymnal or a projector? John Dyer makes an awesome point in his book when he says:

“While God’s words are eternal and unchanging, the tools we use to access those words do change, and those changes in technology also bring subtle changes to the practice of worship. When we fail to recognize the impact of such technological change, we run the risk of allowing our tools to dictate our methods. Technology should not dictate our values or our methods. Rather, we must use technology out of our convictions and values.”

What do you value? What are your convictions? Once you have those in place then you can properly evaluate the technology and what role it can/will play in your life. Our values and convictions should be coming directly from the Bible so before you decide how to use your new iPhone 5 and the fancy new app you got, think about what you value and see if they line up.

Once we realize that technology can change the world and our lives then Mr. Dyer says:

If it is true that technology has the capacity to shape the world that God made, as well as shape our bodies, minds, and souls, then it seems we should care deeply about our tools. Moreover, if technology plays some role in the story of God redeeming his people, we should care all the more.

How can we use technology to play a role in the story of God? So many mission’s organizations are doing that now including using new techniques to get clean drinking water to new places or Bible courses to pastors who didn’t have access before (that’s going to be me!). There are so many examples that I could spend a long time writing about, but that is not the point of this blog. We need to first examine our values and convictions, then determine what role each piece of technology will play in our life and then figure out ways to use the technology in the story of God.

There are always going to be dangers when using technology, but if we remember, as Mr. Dyer says, “We alone, not machines, are responsible for our choices.”

We have to be careful with using any kind of technology and yet if we keep Jesus and the Bible at the root of all we do, technology can be a powerful tool in God’s story. Let me leave you with a final thought from Mr. Dyer that should guide all of us in our use of technology, but so often doesn’t.

We must continually attempt to view technology through the lens of the story of God and his people, with the resurrected Christ at beginning, middle, and end of that story. It is his life, work, and promises that should inform our value system, shape the way we see the world, and transform the way we live in it.

Theology book #7 – Branded by Tim Sinclair

Instead of summing up what Branded is about I will let Tim’s own words say it for me. He says, “Branded, by design, is a pep talk, not a playbook. It’s motivation, not mechanics. It’s inspiration, not instruction. It’s the start of a very long, perhaps never-ending, discussion that’s desperately needed.”

In today’s world you can find books with step by step directions about a plethora of topics. A simple search of the words step by step on Amazon returns 93,600 results. You can probably find a step by step book for just about every topic and yet those books often do not provide step by step instructions that will work for you. Why? Well they are written in a very general way so they mostly apply to most people at most times. That’s the same reason why horoscopes look like they are in tune with what is happening in our lives when in reality saying, “you will meet someone new” is pretty obvious! Step by step books are not written for your situation specifically so they won’t always provide what you need. Now don’t get me wrong they serve their purpose and I have read a bunch of them, but the biggest reason I liked Branded by Tim Sinclair is because it doesn’t claim to give you the steps necessary to take in order to achieve something. Tim Sinclair says, “I’m convinced that when it comes to showing and sharing Jesus to and with the world around us, it’s critical that we recognize our own unique situations, talents, abilities—and then effectively use them to reach people within our individual spheres of influence. Other than the boundaries and guidelines provided by the Bible, nothing else should create a game plan for us because there is no right way for everybody. There is no one-size-fits-all methodology. So I’m not going to give you one.”

The book’s title should give you a glance at the content. Tim presents evangelism as marketing Jesus and if we are marketing Jesus then our goal should be to sell Jesus to others and get our product out to as many people as possible. Don’t fuss over the word marketing if it has a negative connotation to you, the goal of marketing and evangelism is the same so if you would feel more comfortable saying evangelism then say that.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time going over everything that Tim says because he has a lot of points and I strongly encourage you to read it, but if you can agree with me and Tim that we need to be showing (show), sharing (sell) and spreading (distribute) Jesus to as many people as possible then let these words sink in for you.

We agreed that there is only one right motivation to sell something—belief. Belief that your product is the best. Belief that the up-front costs are worth the long-term benefit. Belief that your service will make a lasting difference in someone’s life. (As an aside, belief doesn’t necessarily make you right, but it does make you authentic, and that’s a huge step in the right direction.)

Let’s go out, be authentic about our belief that Jesus Christ is the one and only Redeemer and let others see what it is that we see.

Theology books #6 – Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas

I have been working on reading fifteen books this year that I called theology books, but in truth not all of them are “theology” books. Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas is a great example of what I mean. It is not a theology book, but a biography of a normal man (William Wilberforce) who did extraordinary things because of the radical transformation that was made in him when He started to have a relationship with Jesus.

This book was a nice break from reading about how to change my life to fit more closely to the way God intended. It’s not that I don’t need to hear those things, but reading about a man, his struggles and triumphs inspired me a lot. For those of you who don’t know who William Wilberforce is he was the driving force behind ending the slave trade in England and eventually freeing the slaves in all of the provinces under English control. Wilberforce did many other things to which I cannot address because I would have to literally rewrite Metaxas’ book and he did a great job so I’ll just touch on what was most encouraging to me.

With the elections coming soon it is easy to get frustrated by those that are constantly running for office with suspect character, but even though Wilberforce was from a different country and time, he was a politician and that gives me hope that someone here could rise up in the ranks like Wilberforce did and greatly influence our country for God and not for themselves.

One of the best statements in the whole book came in the introduction. In Wilberforce’s time slavery was viewed as a good thing that helped all parties. Metaxas said, “Wilberforce murdered that old way of seeing things, and so the idea that slavery was good died along with it. Even though slavery continues to exist here and there, the idea that it is good is dead.” Wilberforce helped people see slavery for what it really was, a horrible and disgusting institution. Could you imagine changing people’s belief about something. I am not talking just a friend or two, but imagine everyone in the world for a long time to come adapting your viewpoint and then doing something about it that led to a ridiculous amount of lives saved. Yeah, that is incredible!

I will leave you all with a quote from one of Wilberforce’s speeches in Parliament and hope that this will inspire all of us to stand up for doing what is Biblical no matter what popular opinions dictate.

“Policy, Sir, is not my principle, and I am not ashamed to say it. There is a principle above everything that is political. And when I reflect on the command that says, ‘Thou shalt do no murder,’ believing the authority to be divine, how can I dare set up any reasonings of my own against it? And, Sir, when we think of eternity, and of the future consequences of all human conduct, what is here in this life which should make any man contradict the principles of his own conscience, the principles of justice, the laws of religion, and of God?”

Thank you Mr. Metaxas for writing this book and reminding us about someone who did not live for himself, but for God and all of God’s creation. That is a lesson we can learn and apply to our lives no matter who and where we are.

 

Theology book #1 Church History

Last year I posted a blog that was a challenge to me and maybe others to read more books about theology this year and to really strive to learn as much as possible about our Lord and Savior from the Bible and other sources as well. I started out with Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. I figured this would be a good place to start, giving me an overall idea about how the church is what it is and, to quote Shelley,” to separate the transient from the permanent, fads from basics.” That is my hope for this book among my readers.

Shelley, Bruce (2008-12-02). Church History in Plain Language: Third Edition (Kindle Locations 154-155). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition. . Little did I know that this book was as long as it is. I started it January 1st and did not anticipate it taking me this long to finish. I didn’t want to rush through it though, so I took my time and tried to commit as much to memory as possible. My original plan was to finish 14 books by the end of the year and while that is still my goal, I have got some catching up to do.

I wanted to share a few of the highlights I made that will hopefully give you something to think about. I also will expound upon a few of them to share what thoughts were running through my brain as I read this.

In reference to Jesus it says, “Little by little his disciples came to see that following him meant saying ‘no’ to the other voices calling for their loyalties. In one sense that was the birth of the Jesus movement. And in that sense, at least, Jesus ‘founded’ the church.”

Could this be any more well-stated? “True philosophy, said Origen, always focuses on the Word, ‘who attracts all irresistibly to himself by his unutterable beauty.'”

Two quotes from John Hus, a Czech Protestant reformer really stuck out to me as how I hope I can view Christ as well.  These two quotes influenced me to find a biography of Hus so I can learn more. He said:

“O most holy Christ,” he prayed, “draw me, weak as I am, after Thyself, for if Thou dost not draw us we cannot follow Thee. Strengthen my spirit, that it may be willing. If the flesh is weak, let Thy grace precede us; come between and follow, for without Thee we cannot go for Thy sake to cruel death. Give me a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, a perfect love, that for Thy sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy. Amen.”

“God is my witness that the evidence against me is false. I have never thought nor preached except with the one intention of winning men, if possible, from their sins. In the truth of the gospel I have written, taught, and preached; today I will gladly die.”

My favorite person to read about in the book was Martin Luther, mostly because he spoke his mind and said things like:

“I kept the rule so strictly,” he recalled years later, “that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his sheer monkery, it was I. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading, and other work.”

And, “There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage,” Luther said later. “One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before.”

This is what I want to talk about today though, in a little more detail than the others.

“Any religion that becomes the religion of the majority and slowly turns into a social habit tends to grow humdrum and flat, regardless of its original glow of enthusiasm. So it proved in many areas of Lutheran Germany.”

I think we are beginning to see this in the US right now and it seems as though in Europe it has been happening for a while. People are moving away from what their parents and grand-parents did because it became a social habit instead of a lively, energetic all-life encompassing movement in their heart. Church became something to do and that’s all. That is why you have a huge number of people in the US saying they are Christian when in reality it is only because they grew up in the church that they say they are Christian. When need to get back to the revival in our nation like the stats below show is happening almost everywhere but Europe and America.

“More Christians worshiped in Anglican churches in Nigeria each week than in all the Episcopal and Anglican churches of Britain, Europe, and North America combined. There were ten times more Assemblies of God members in Latin America than in the United States. There were more Baptists in Congo than in Great Britain. And there were more people in church every Sunday in communist China than in all of Western Europe.”

My next book I am reading is Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. It might be a long one so we will see how long it takes me to finish that one.

Let me leave you with this thought by the great evangelist George Whitefield. I can add nothing to this, but an Amen!

“Father Abraham, whom have you in heaven? Any Episcopalians? No! Any Presbyterians? No! Any Independents or Methodists? No, no, no! Whom have you there? We don’t know those names here. All who are here are Christians. . . . Oh, is this the case? Then God help us to forget party names and to become Christians in deed and truth.”