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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
So the other week I wrote about theology books and my goal of reading 15 within the next year. In preparation for starting the list I checked out how much this would cost me. I have a kindle so I am looking to get as many in ebook format as possible.
I totaled up all of the costs and it came out to $139.42. It’s honestly less than I thought it was going to be, but nonetheless it is still a decent amount of money to spend on books. It’s even more than that if you buy them as paperbacks (which is not necessary since Amazon has a free software program to read ebooks on your ipod, ipad, smartphone or computer if you don’t mind reading them electronically). I wanted to find a way to reduce the cost for me and for anyone looking to dig deeper into theology. I found a website ebookfling.com that allows users to lend and borrow ebooks to/from other users. You can borrow any book that another user has made available for 14 days and if you need longer than that you can borrow it an unlimited number of times. Think about it like a virtual library. You borrow an available book until the due date. If you didn’t finish you check it out again until you are finished.
I immediately check out the books I plan on reading and I was severely disappointed. There were only two of the books that I wanted to read that I didn’t already own and only two of them are allowed to be lent. Some publishers or authors do not allow their book to be lent for obvious reasons, but there were two books that I can borrow. The problem is, only one of them has been available for me right now because no one has said they have the other book.
Here is what I am thinking. Don’t we want to have as many people reading theological books as possible? What if we all went on this site and made every book we weren’t currently reading available for lending? What if every author and publisher would allow the lending of their books? It wouldn’t kill the profit margin because libraries have been doing this for a long time, so don’t worry about that. What it just might do is encourage more people to dig deeper into the Bible.
My plan is as soon as I am done reading a theology ebook I will make it available on ebookfling that way anyone who wants to read it can borrow it for free. Maybe there is another way to help get theology books to the masses, I just don’t know it. If you do, please feel free to share as I would love to be able to save money and still read these books.
Last November I was in Colorado at my orientation for Greater Europe Mission. There were 12 of us total, 5 couples and two single guys. I quickly realized that I was on a whole different level than these guys. I don’t mean that to sound like they were better than me or I was better than them, but it was obvious that our training levels were vastly different. I had a Bachelor’s degree in Middle Childhood Education from Bowling Green State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology from the University of Florida. Every other guy in our group had at minimum been to a Bible college and some of them had been to seminary as well.
For the most part this wasn’t too obvious, well that is until we had conversations and oh yeah when someone busted out a Calvinism joke. I still have no idea what was so funny. Throughout the week I realized that I didn’t know much about church history and that I have never really gotten to in depth in the Bible either. So i asked two of the guys for a list of “must-read” books on church history and theologians. They gave me a list of several books that I should check out and I immediately put it in my iPod for reference later. That note is still stored in my iPod and I have done exactly nothing with it.
Earlier this week I came across a blog about reading theology books and why no time is no excuse. I definitely recommend you checking it out, but here is a short summary of what the blogger quotes from a John Piper sermon called “Get Wisdom.” He says if you read 250 words in a minute for 15 minutes a day you will read 5475 minutes in a year and 1,368,750 words. He then says that the average page in a book has between 300 and 400 words so you would end up reading 3,910 pages in that year. Depending on how big the books are you are looking at reading between 13 and 20 in a year.
15 minutes a day is totally manageable so I decided to start doing that, as soon as I am done with my current book, and see how well that goes. I am aiming for 15 books within the next year so I decided to make a list of 15 books that I could read. Some are theology, some are church history and some are biographies just so I could add some variety. Here they are in no particular order in case you are curious or want to comment on them:
1. Church History in Plain Language – Bruce Shelley
2. Questioning Evangelism – Randy Newman
3. Speaking of Jesus – Max Stiles
4. Amazing Grace – Eric Metaxas
5. Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, Why it Matters, How to Become One – Alan J. Roxburgh
6. Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation – Richard J. Foster
7. Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture – Michael Frost
8. God’s Chosen Fast: A Spiritual and Practical Guide to Fasting – Arthur Wallis
9. Rescuing Ambition – Dave Harvey
10. Branded – Tim Sinclair
11. From the Garden to the City – John Dyer
12. Buck-Naked Faith: A Brutally Honest Look at Stunted Christianity – Eric Sandras
13. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – Eric Metaxas
14. Commentary on Romans – Martin Luther
15. Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin