Monday, December 23, 2013

NIGHT SHIFT: God at Work in the Dark Hours of Life - by Dave Shive

It is a little unnerving, yet also strangely comforting, when you find your own story reflected in someone else’s story.   That is what happened in this book.   Dave is a personal friend and has been “shamelessly” bugging me to read his book for perhaps two or three years.  I should have read it three years ago.

The “night shift” is an analogy: workers in God’s Kingdom harvest are assigned to various shifts.  Some enjoy “daytime” shifts full of sunshine and enjoyable labor.  But some labor in the darkness, confused, discouraged, and unable to see the purpose behind their efforts.  Often there seems to be no “rhyme or reason,” or warning, as to why any particular laborer is reassigned from day to night shift – but our Master does have a purpose.

Dave describes for us his personal journey during his night shift assignment.  No spoilers here – you need to read this book – but let’s summarize and say that for 30 months Dave wrestled with the loss of his primary role and passion and wondered why God was allowing this in his life.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I have just come out of my own night shift.  Three years ago today I was only 2 months away from resigning my ministry position at the time – with no clear direction for the future.  Unhappy for several years in my assignment, it seemed that I went from ‘hard’ to ‘hardest’ while I agreed to wait on and take the leap of faith that took me away from my organization and paycheck.  Leaving that role was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life, and yet it was clear at the time that God was closing the door.  Disillusioned and discouraged, I entered the final stages of waiting on God and crying out to Him for deliverance.  
Dave describes the night shift in seven stages:
(1) The Pit
(2) The Wait
(3) The Cry
(4) The Answer
(5) The Deliverance
(6) The New Song
(7) The Impact

Since the names of the stages are fairly self-explanatory, I will share a few “nuggets” that most impacted me (as I usually do) from each of them:

·        “…the pit is a place of constriction or narrowness…  [it] limits your options and restricts your freedom.  …Those who enter the pit are afraid of what man can do to them, and so the pit experience is needed to rid them of that fear.  The fear of man (a mind-set to unlearn) and the fear of the Lord (an attitude to obtain) are vivid themes in Scripture.  The first is natural, the second, acquired.”  
·        “Our natural goal is comfort.  God’s goal is to make us useful for His glory.  To attain His goal, God interferes with ours.”  
·        “God characteristically does not divulge His mysterious plans to those who are in the darkness.” 

·        Psalm 40 can be translated “intense waiting” – David experienced a “grueling marathon, one that exacted an enormous toll in terms of time, emotion, resources, and energy.”   “In the darkness, no one casually says, ‘I think I’ll wait on God.’”
·        “The person assigned to the darkness is incapable of self-delivery.  This person must show up for work in the dark until the Owner changes His mind!  Waiting brings us to the point where we can say, ‘My times are in Your hands.’ (Ps 31:15)”
·        “While divine silence is undoubtedly the most frustrating and outstanding peculiarity defining the Biblical pit experience, it may also be the most potent teaching tool in God’s arsenal.”
·        “…God lovingly ignores many of our small-minded demands for release from affliction because He has better things in store for us.”
·        “Human football is child’s play compared with God’s cross-body blocks as we are weaned from self.  Lovingly blindsided under cover of darkness, we are stunned by bone-jarring, heart-crunching tackles designed to break our will and our heart.”  
·        “The length of the wait is not as significant as its intensity.”
·        “The night shift is for every believer, and God’s timetable for His children is never what we think it should be.”

·        “…the pit is the place where prayer is best learned.”
·        “On the night shift, once-smug and self-satisfied individuals see their facades of independence and self-reliance crumble.  True weaknesses and needs are uncovered.  A cry of desperation is the result of this ruthless disclosure.  This shift accomplishes its purpose when it produces serious people who, with great, urgency, cry out to God.”
·        “The darkness produces brokenness, and broken people pray fervently.”
·        “With all of my good theology, why did it take me so long to discover that the problem was me?”
·        “True achievement in ministry burgeons when failure is embraced and God is allowed to place us on the night shift of His vineyard, where we will labor in the ‘Department of Defeat.’  His grand design is to bring proud, independent disciples to a point of prayerful surrender so that they will learn to lean on Him for their strength.”

·        “How wrong of me to think that those seminary years were my ‘training.’ In reality, God chose to use most of my life to train me.  …It was on the night shift, after more than twenty years of difficult lessons, that I would receive a message from God’s Word and emerge with something to say to needy people.”
·        “As we eagerly discard our debris, our God, Great Economist that He is, comes along behind us, snatching up everything in His arms.  He sees the precious treasures we have so nonchalantly jettisoned.  Intending to display His glory, He redeems and utilizes every pain, every sorrow, every tear, every trauma, and every disappointment of our lives.” 
·        “You are a ‘preacher in process’ and your audience will be ready when you are.  …This ‘congregation’ of yours desperately needs the Word of God.  As surely as any character in Scripture was dispatched by God with a message, you, the pit survivor, have two assignments… (1) learn the Word of God under cover of darkness, and (2) give God’s Word to your audience regardless of the shift to which you are assigned.”

·        The Joseph principle – “The night shift is God’s method of sovereignly using man’s sin, Satan’s schemes, and unpleasant natural circumstances to achieve great goals in the lives of His children.”
·        “If we want to understand the delight of being rescued, we must attend Night School.”   “…the delivered are marked people.  After the night shift, the delivered are transformed.”
·        “Genuine brokenness comes to us when the adoration of God becomes more important to us than our own comfort.”
·        “If pit people are in the constricted, narrow place, those who have experienced God’s marvelous deliverance…will find themselves in the broad place.  …the broad place is a place of usefulness, the place where impact is made.  …The large place is a tribute to the mercy, wisdom, largesse, and power of a sovereign God to bring the poor, weak, and hopeless into a place of usefulness and blessing.”

·        “The sixth stage…is profoundly musical.”  “…the darkness is fertile time for songwriting.”
·        “It is patently clear that the one who is delivered from the darkness is to have a message and that each message will be fine-tuned to the individual personality and pit experience.  The diligent student who has been delivered from the night shift will go forth to proclaim that message with great enthusiasm.” 
·        The song and message is one of both AWE and OBEDIENCE.  “The wonderful lesson learned by enduring the pit and being delivered from affliction is this: Obedience is best, and the pit teaches us to relish obedience!  This is learned because the trauma and grief of the night shift breaks the child of God.  The nature of our learning styles is such that we do not truly grasp the most important lessons in life except under compulsion.  One may enter the night shift with a casual attitude toward obedience, but the instruction of the darkness will not allow such a mindset to persist.”
·        “On the night shift, the sufferer is shut up with a Holy God who proceeds to work diligently on His child.  Lessons of purity, holiness, and obedience are reinforced under cover of darkness.”

Psalm 118:5 – “From my distress I called upon the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me in a large place.” 
·        “As there is a cycle to the narrowness of the pit, there is also a ‘cycle of enlargement.’  When impact occurs and the delivered one is used to touch other lives, the night shift begins to make sense.”
·        “Deliverance is not for personal comfort or enjoyment.  The night shift is intended to prepare the child of God to be used for His purposes.  Since the night shift is preparatory, the ‘large place’ is the platform for ministry when the survivor of the pit is released to impact others.”
·        “Just as the pit is a place of restriction, the large place is primarily a position of expansive influence.  In the small place, movement is contained and access is limited.  The muscles atrophy and skills like dormant.  Brain processes deteriorate… Emerging from the night shift, we are wiser and better-equipped leaders.  God has a lot at stake in our deliverance.” 

 “Before God can use a man greatly, He must first hurt him deeply.” - AW Tozer

·        “Only the broken are focused on authenticity.  The night shift rids us of our pathetic, small-minded longing for glory.  The luster of earthly achievement fades after one has done time on the night shift.  Affliction enlarges our vision so that we can see God and ourselves more clearly. “
·        “No words can express how much the world owes to sorrow.  Most of the Psalms were born in a wilderness.  Most of the Epistles were written in a prison.  The greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers have all passed through the fire.  Take comfort, afflicted Christian!  When God is about to make preeminent use of a man, He puts him in the fire.” – George MacDonald

I have been through the night shift – where all of the above statements rang true.  I was discouraged and confused.  I lay there on the altar while all of my sin patterns and struggles were exposed by a Holy God.  I wept over my mistakes, and struggled with anger and resentment over the mistakes of others.  I learned to pray deep, heart-wrenching prayers for deliverance and clarity.  I waited…and waited…and waited.  I learned obedience.  I grew in authenticity and integrity, and I trust, in humility as well.  I began to understand what brokenness is and perhaps more importantly, what it produces in the life of a believer.

Finally – I was delivered and brought into a broad place.  I can say that now I am having “the time of my life” – with deep joy and gratitude for all that He has brought me through.  I am enjoying a season of impact that I never would have imagined before, and it is more than abundantly clear that I was trained and prepared in the night shift “for such a time as this” and for such a place and people as I am now working among. 

I once heard the statement that you know you have been truly broken if you are willing to be broken again – for the purposes of God.  I am willing – there may be more night shifts in my future, but I know, trust and love the Owner of the vineyard and look forward to His purposes being fulfilled.

Thanks Dave!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Developing the Leaders Around You - John Maxwell

Anytime I read John Maxwell books - I feel inspired...and I also feel a bit like a schmuck because I just have no idea how he does it all! :)  

This book is a gem - packed full of ideas to motivate and inspire (classic John Maxwell stuff!) toward excellence - particularly in the area of developing others around you.

The essence of the book can be captured by a quote (I cannot remember whom it is by) - that success without a successor is failure.  

One key takeaway:  figure out how to make finding and keeping the best people for my team my priority.  

Finding = recruiting the best people with the right skill sets
Keeping = being committed to focused and consistent development of my staff.  Releasing them into their gifting areas, providing encouragement and a strong foundation to succeed.

My other key takeaway: it is imperative that a leader believe in those he/she leads.  You can't fake it.  I was under a leader for a season - and I know they did not believe in me...they said the words, but the action behind it (such as delegating or entrusting me with so-called "important" tasks) was lacking.  Currently, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my boss - and his boss too - believe in me deeply.  It is freeing - I risk more, I do more, I have more confidence, and I just feel so much more joy and belonging in my work. I feel released into my gifting. This is the same feeling I want to pass along to any who work under my own leadership in the future.  

This book is worth reading - especially if you oversee staff.  Keep a notepad ready to jot down specific action steps. Just be careful it doesn't get too long... thanks to "classic John Maxwell" bursts of inspiration!!!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Imitation of Christ - Thomas A Kempis

If I had to summarize this book in one word it would be "humility."  The author - a monk in the 15th century - wrote what is considered to be the best known Christian work outside of the Bible.  

I enjoyed the first section of the book the most - the "counsels on the inner life."  I am still finishing the last 1/2 of the book.

I have one point of disagreement - if I so dare to disagree with such a classic work!  A Kempis wrote from the perspective of one who was in the midst of the monastic movement - a movement used powerfully by God, but whose role was often to step away from common man rather than to live among them.  I prefer an incarnational approach to sharing my faith and life with others - to live among rather than to separate from.  

Here are some of my favorite "nuggets" -

"It is no great matter to associate with the good and gentle, for this is naturally pleasant to everyone.  All men are glad to live at peace, and prefer those who are of their own way of thinking.  But to be able to live at peace among hard, obstinate, and undisicplined people and those who oppose us, is a great grace, and a most commendable and manly achievement."  

And a whole section - I cannot help but reproduce in its entirety here:

"Do not be concerned overmuch who is with you or against you, but work and plan that God may be with you in all that you do. Keep a clean conscience, and God will mightily defend you; for whoever enjoys the protection of God cannot be harmed by the malice of man.  If you learn to suffer in silence, you may be sure of receiving God's help.  He knows the time and the way to deliver you; so trust yourself entirely to His care.  God is strong to help you, and to free you from all confusion.  It is often good for us that others know and expose our faults, for so may we be kept humble.  

When a man humbly admits his faults, he soon appeases his fellows, and is reconciled to those whom he had offended.  God protects and delivers a humble man; He loves and comforts him.  To the humble He leans down and bestows great success, raising him from abasement to honour.  To him He reveals His secrets, and lovingly calls and draws him to Himself.  Even in the midst of trouble, the humble man remains wholly at peace, for he trusts in God, and not in the world.  Do not consider yourself to have made any spiritual progress, unless you account yourself the least of all men."  

A common struggle - to allow others to expose our faults and to humbly own it and repent publicly of our sin.  Ouch.  I admit my ego still struggles under this injunction.  And yet - I have personally seen in my own life and others the absolute beauty of repentance and restoration as a result of a deep humility rooted in the Gospel-identity we have in Christ.

God...humble me more. Help me imitate Christ.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How the Irish Saved Civilization - by Thomas Cahill

Yes, this is not my normal "read"... in fact, I'm not reading it at all - I am listening to the audio version.

I am not a "history buff" - I have always had a difficult time remembering dates and names.  I love the stories and the lessons learned in history, but have struggled to keep it "filed and ready" in my busy-brain.

I was prompted to read this book because of my preparation for the Perspectives Course and the lesson I am responsible to teach.

I apologize that this is not a very formal or thorough review -but just wanted to say that this book is worth "listening to" - and if you love History, worth reading and noting. The author does a fantastic job of linking the various seasons of history with the preservation of literature and the progress of Christianity.  It is more exciting than I can adequately express here.  

I am coming away from this book with a renewed sense of the power of the Gospel to transform culture, and power of one individual (such as St. Patrick) to express that message in a way that ripples out beyond what he may have ever dreamed would happen!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Work of Heart: Understanding how God Shapes Spiritual Leaders - Reggie McNeal

I know that many of you will be shocked to hear that I have become a little tired of books lately and took a break from my intense reading schedule this past month.  Hope no one fell over in shock!  I did manage to skim-read this book.  A good read - but I found that it contained many highly familiar concepts for me and so it was "more review than new."  I think perhaps others may like it much more than I did.  

One good take away:  "Leadership that is not encountering difficulty probably is not trying to accomplish much."  

It is a good read - but doesn't make my "favorites" list and I didn't have a lot to write about it.  

Onward to new books! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

A very practical book!  Change can be overwhelming and difficult.  How to move forward?

The authors begin by reminding us that our brains are made up of essentially two different parts - they quip, you are "not of one mind."  There is the Rider and the Elephant.  The Rider represents our rational, thinking side, and the Elephant represents our emotional side. (picture a human rider on top of a very large, strong-willed elephant!) The Rider is the brains of the operation, obviously, but the Elephant is not easily controlled or persuaded by the Rider's limited powers.  Both must be on board for change to occur.  Self-control is an exhaustible resource - so the emotional motivation for the behavioral change must join the rational motivation quickly!

If you want change to happen you must...
Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant, and Shape the Path.

Direct the Rider - explain the why and importance and rationale behind the change.
Motivate the Elephant - if someone's heart is not in the change, it simply won't happen, no matter how clearly you explain the vision.
Shape the Path - Clear instructions and steps are needed.  Ambiguity is the enemy of change.

Perhaps the most impacting part of this book was the section that describes how to "shape the path."  I was already familiar with the need for both rational and emotional motivation to move toward change - but the idea that people (including self!) need crystal-clear direction to change was very practical for me.

For example...instead of saying: "eat healthier," say "choose 1% milk instead of whole milk."  Both instructions are based on the same idea, but one gives a concrete action that is easy to remember.  

The phrase "Script the change" kept reoccurring.  What is the change you want to see?  How can you make that change easier?  What specific steps can be laid out in a clear fashion to give direction?  "Ambiguity is exhausting to the Rider, because the Rider is tugging on the reins of the Elephant, trying to direct the Elephant down a new path.  But when the road is uncertain, the Elephant will insist on taking the default path, the most familiar path...why?  Because uncertainty makes the Elephant anxious."  - page 53

"Ambiguity is the enemy.  Any successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviors.  In short, to make a switch, you need to script the critical moves." - p. 53  "When you want someone to behave in a new way, explain the 'new way' clearly.  Don't assume the new moves are obvious."  p. 60

"Until you can ladder your way down from a change idea to a specific behavior, you're not ready to lead a switch."  p. 63  "Clarity dissolves resistance." p. 72

There is a great deal of good advice in this book - but my main take away is to SCRIPT change...not control, but clarify and set simple steps that makes the path to a new vision something that people will not only want to do but know HOW to do it!

Brokenness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Greater power for Christian living usually starts with deeper surrender.  This classic truth exposes us - revealing the petty things we cling to that limit our effectiveness in prayer and service.  

This book does just that - reveals, exposes, and calls us out to greater power for Christian living through brokenness.  

Isaiah 57:15 tells us that God has 'two addresses' - He dwells in a high and lofty place, but also with those who are contrite and lowly of heart. The Beatitudes reinforce this - "Blessed are the poor in spirit."  God is actually attracted to those who are spiritually destitute and are willing to acknowledge it.  

Nancy Demoss does a fantastic job at writing in a simple and straight-forward fashion about the power of brokenness before God, and before others.  Pride is insidious, hard to kill, and leaks out in unexpected places in our lives.  The higher we rise in positions of leadership, the more vulnerable we are to its hidden grip.  As Jesus illustrates this in the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee - God is drawn to humility and acknowledgement of need, and repulsed by pride.

In many religious systems, the severity or gravity of one's sin is counted most important.  But in the Christian faith, it is not the smallness or bigness of the sin that God sees per se - but the extent of repentance within the heart.  King Saul had an ego problem and did not repent. In contrast, King David was guilty of murder and adultery, but in the depth of his repentance, God called him a man after his own heart.  It is sometimes easy for mature believers to sweep "small sins" under the rug, but God is looking for courageous acknowledgement of the patterns that keep us distanced from Himself and others.

I highly recommend this book - I wish that I could capture all of it here - but I have no time.  Of the many valuable nuggets in this book, the most valuable was her list of comparisons - how to know if you are broken or unbroken.  I am listing it here fully - I dare you to take the time to read it, pray it through, and take whatever action the Spirit directs you to.  And pray for me...that I might continue to do the same.  Brokenness is not a one-time occurrence, it is a lifestyle of daily dying.


  1. Proud people focus on the failures of others and can readily point out those faults.  Broken people are more conscious of their own spiritual need than of anyone else's. 
  2. Proud people have a critical, fault-finding spirit.  They look at everyone else's faults with a microscope but view their own with a telescope.  Broken people are compassionate - they have the kind of love that overlooks a multitude of sins; they can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven.
  3. Proud people are especially prone to criticize those in positions of authority - their pastor, their boss, their husband, their parents - and they talk to others about the faults they see.  Broken people reverence, encourage, and lift up those that God has placed in positions of authority, and they talk to God in intercession, rather than gossiping about the faults they see in others.
  4. Proud people are self-righteous; they think highly of themselves and look down on others.  Broken people think the best of others; they esteem others as better than themselves.
  5. Proud people have an independent, self-sufficient spirit.  Broken people have a dependent spirit; they recognize their need for God and for others.
  1. Proud people have to prove they are right - they have to get the last word.  Broken people are willing to yield the right to be right.
  2. Proud people claim rights and have a demanding spirit.  Broken people yield their rights and have a meek spirit.
  3. Proud people are self-protective of their time, their rights, and their reputation.  Broken people are self-denying and self-sacrificing.
  1. Proud people desire to be served - they want life to revolve around them and their own needs.  Broken people are motivated to serve others and to be sure others' needs are met before their own.
  2. Proud people desire to be known as a success.  Broken people are motivated to be faithful and to make others successful.
  3. Proud people have a feeling - conscious or unconscious - that 'this ministry (or this organization) is privileged to have me and my gifts.'  They focus on what they can do for God.  Broken people have a heart attitude that says, 'I don't deserve to have any part in this ministry,' they know that they have nothing to offer God except the life of Jesus flowing through their broken lives.
  1. Proud people crave self-advancement.  Broken people desire to promote others.
  2. Proud people have a drive to be recognized and appreciated for their efforts.  Broken people have a sense of their own unworthiness; they are thrilled that God would use them at all.
  3. Proud people get wounded when others are promoted and they are overlooked.  Broken people are eager for others to get the credit, and they rejoice when others are lifted up.
  4. Proud people are elated by praise and deflated by criticism.  Broken people know that any praise of their accomplishments belongs to the Lord and that criticism can help them grow into spiritual maturity.
  1. Proud people feel confident in how much they know.  Broken people are humbled by how very much they have to learn.
  2. Proud people are self-conscious.  They worry about what others think of them.  Broken people are not preoccupied with what others think of them.
  3. Proud people are concerned about appearing respectable; they are driven to protect their image and reputation.  Broken people are concerned with being real; they care less about what others think than about what God knows - they are willing to die to their own reputation.
  4. Proud people can't bear to fail or for anyone to think they are less than perfect.  This can drive them to extremes - workaholic tendencies, perfectionism, the tendency to drive others or to place unrealistic expectations on themselves or others.  Broken people can recognize and live within God-given limitations.
  1. Proud people keep others at arm's length.  Broken people are willing to take the risks of getting close to others and loving intimately.
  2. Proud people are quick to blame others.  Broken people accept personal responsibility and can acknowledge where they were wrong in a situation.
  3. Proud people wait for others to come and ask forgiveness when there is a misunderstanding or a breach in a relationship.  Broken people take the initiative to be reconciled, no matter how wrong the other party may have been.
  4. Proud people are unapproachable or defensive when corrected.  Broken people receive correction with a humble, open spirit.
  5. Proud people find it difficult to discuss their spiritual needs with others.  Broken people are willing to be open and transparent with others as God directs.
  6. Proud people try to control the people and the circumstances around them - they are prone to manipulate.  Broken people trust in God - they rest in Him and are able to wait for Him to act on their behalf.
  7. Proud people become bitter and resentful when they are wronged; they have emotional temper tantrums; they hold others hostage and are easily offended; they carry grudges and keep a record of others' wrongs.  Broken people give thanks in all things; they are quick to forgive those who wrong them.
  1. Proud people want to be sure that no one finds out when they have sinned; their instinct is to cover up.  Broken people aren't overly concerned with who knows or who finds out about their sin -  they are willing to be exposed because they have nothing to lose.
  2. Proud people have a hard time saying, 'I was wrong; will you please forgive me?'  Broken people are quick to admit their failure and to seek forgiveness when necessary.
  3. Proud people tend to deal in generalities when confessing their sin to God ('Dear Lord, please forgive me for all my sins...') or expressing spiritual need to others ('I need to be a better Christian...').  Broken people are able to acknowledge specifics when confessing their sin: 'Lord, I agree with You that I love myself more than I love my mate; I confess that I am addicted to television; I'm a glutton; I have a critical spirit; I am an angry mother...'
  4. Proud people are concerned about the consequences of their sin.  They are disturbed over the problems caused by their sin - for example, the financial bondage created by their overspending, or the problems in their marriage that have resulted from selfishness and immoral choices.  Broken people are grieved over the cause, the root of their sin.  They are more concerned about how their sin was grieved and dishonored God than about the problems it has created in their lives. 
  5. Proud people are remorseful over their sin - sorry that they got caught or found out.  Broken people are truly repentant over their sin, and the evidence of their repentance is that they forsake the sin.
  1. Proud people are blind to the true condition of their hearts.  Broken people walk in the light and acknowledge the truth about their lives.
  2. Proud people compare themselves with others and feel worthy of respect.  Broken people realize that they need to maintain a continual heart attitude of repentance.
  3. Proud people don't think they need revival, but they are sure everyone else does (in fact, right about now, they are making a mental list of the people they think need to read this book!)  Broken people continually sense their need for a fresh encounter with God and for a fresh filling of His Holy Spirit.
Are you a broken Christian?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott

"Our lives succeed or fail gradually, then suddenly, one conversation at a time.  While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a business, a marriage, or a life, any single conversation can.  The conversation is the relationship." 

The conversation IS the relationship... what a powerful idea. Susan Scott highlights and addresses the area where most relationships break down - in the words that we speak, how we engage one another, and how we make others feel when we do so.  

She has selected seven principles of fierce conversations:

(1) "Master the courage to interrogate reality."  We are all skilled at masking reality, both to ourselves and before others.  She exhorts us to stop ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room, and in the words of my roommate to "deal with it!"

(2) "Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real."  Most of us are skilled at hiding behind politeness or even an attempt at 'kindness' instead of courageously engaging the person and the topic that needs to be addressed.  She states, "While many fear 'real,' it is the unreal coversation that should scare us to death.  Unreal conversations are expensive, for the individual and the organization.  No one has to change, but everyone has to have the conversation.  When the conversation is real, the change occurs before the conversation is over.  You will accomplish your goals in large part by making every conversation you have as real as possible."  

(3) "Be here, prepared to be nowhere else."  ... "Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person."

(4) "Tackle your toughest challenge today.  ...Burnout doesn't occur because we're solving problems; it occurs because we've been trying to solve the same problem over and over."

(5) "Obey your instincts." 

(6) "Take responsibility for your emotional wake.  For a leader, there is no trivial comment.  Something you don't remember saying may have had a devastating impact on someone who looked to you for guidance and approval. The conversation is not about the relationship, the conversation IS the relationship..."

(7) "Let silence do the heavy lifting."

"Come out from behind yourself and make it real" is a phrase that has now become stuck in my brain.  My background training is in counseling, and in that vein, I have often held back from bold statements and powerful arguments for the sake of 'safety.'  Perhaps in many ways I have misapplied good principles in the wrong context.

I went through some rough patches in the past few years in which I felt I lost a great deal.  In that loss, there was a kind of rebirth that occurred at the end of that season:  I now feel that I don't have anything left to lose or to prove.  Its the sort of combination in my spiritual life and personal psyche that have generated a new boldness and frankness and courage in my personality.  At least, I perceive that...and I hope that others do as well.

I'm reading Fierce Conversations a second time... its that good.

Miraculous Movements by Jerry Trousdale

Story after story after story - of God changing lives and reaching Muslims for Christ...AND inspiring others to do the same.  That is the summary of this book.  Incredible.  Powerful.  Humbling.  Life-changing.

The essence of Discovery-based studies and story-telling approaches to sharing the Gospel is that they are (1) simple, (2) reproducable, (3) engage people directly in the Word of God, (4) and mirror what 'church' is to believers: prayer, sharing, worship, accountability, etc.  

I have been using discovery-Bible studies for several years in the work that I do, but just this past year have felt more 'confirmed' than ever that they are exactly what God desires me to do.  

Its power lies in simplicity: seekers engage God's Word directly and are immediately encouraged to put it into practice through obedience, as well as sharing with their friends and family.  No seminary training needed, no classes on 'discipleship' or even evangelism training.  Simple modeling and releasing. Done and done.

"Until recent years, this approach has largely been overlooked because it is so simple, and it is counterintuitive to the way ministries normally do evangelism."  

The major principles of this form of Discovery Bible study are below -
(1) Go slow in order to go fast.
(2) Focus on a few to win the many.
(3) Engage an entire family or group, not just the individual.
(4) Share only when and where people are ready to hear.
(5) Start with Creation, not Christ.
(6) It's about discovering and obeying, not teaching and knowledge.
(7) Disciple people to conversion, not vice versa.
(8) Coach lost people from the beginning to discover and obey biblical truth.
(9) Prepare to spend a long time making strong disciples, but anticipate miraculous accelerations.
(10) Expect the hardest places to yield the greatest results.

And above ALL....PRAY.  PRAY.  PRAY... and PRAY some more, then PRAY again.  PRAYER opens doors, defeats strongholds, and begets miracles.  Don't bother doing anything unless you are in prayer - before, during, after and always.

If you want to know more...ask me...but my personal summary and response to this book is this:  WHY would I EVER want to do ANYTHING ELSE WITH MY LIFE THAN THIS?

Done and done.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Wounded Heroes by Elizabeth R. Skoglund

Are struggles with emotion something that Christians should be ashamed of?  Are they somehow evidence of sin or a faulty walk with God?  Elizabeth Skoglund attempts to answer questions like this in her work, "Wounded Heroes."

I have been slowly reading this book over the past several months - the title intrigued me, and so did the list of spiritual giants that Skoglund includes: Amy Carmichael, CS Lewis, Ruth Bell Graham, CH Spurgeon and more.

I have to admit - the writing in this book is rather disjointed and made it difficult to read. I struggled to get through it.  However, that being said, the nuggets of wisdom and truth I found in this book made slugging through - WORTH it.  I am no great writer myself, so no harsh judgment here.

My favorite take-away from this book was how much I learned about Charles Haddon Spurgeon and his struggle with depression.  Few people realize that this great giant of the faith and publisher of multiple great works and sermons struggled deeply with recurrent depression. 

Skoglund puts it well - "Spurgeon did not become great alone.  Nor was he a plastic saint.  Rather it is his combination of greatness, strength and humanness that has refreshing appeal to the modern reader.  Spurgeon was weak, yet strong; ill, yet triumphant.  He had emotional problems, but they only refined him into the finest of gold which bore the image of that Great Refiner of souls."

While highly criticized for his struggle, Spurgeon saw it as a cross he bore in order to walk in humility before God despite his great fame.  He wrote, "My witness is, that those who are honored by their Lord in public have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves, and fall into the snare of the devil..."

And again he writes, "The Lord frequently appears to save His heaviest blows for His best-loved ones; if any one affliction be more painful than another it falls to the lot of those whom He most distinguishes in His service.  The Gardener prunes His best roses with most care.  [Discipline] is sent to keep successful saints humble, to make them tender towards others, and to enable them to bear the high honours which their heavenly Friend puts upon them..."

Spurgeon had a tremendous gift for making things understandable to the common man.  In speaking of human struggles, he wrote, "We have the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels, and if there be a flaw in the vessel here and there, let none wonder."

Prayer was a true 'saving grace' for Spurgeon in his depression:  "When our prayers are reason of our despondency...the Lord will bow down to them, the infinitely exalted Jehovah will have respect unto them.  Faith, when she has the loftiest name of God on her tongue...dares to ask from Him the most tender and condescending acts of love.  Great as He is, He loves His children to be bold with Him.  Our distress is a forcible reason for our being heard by the Lord God, merciful, and gracious, for misery is ever the master argument with mercy." 

Spurgeon noticed that there were multiple reasons for the onslaught of depression:  (1) after an hour of great success - "we are apt to faint," (2) "before any great achievement" - he recognized depression as a sign that God was preparing his ministry for a greater blessing, (3) "in the midst of a long stretch of unbroken labor" - he recognized that our humanity means that we must rest and be refreshed! and finally, (4) "causeless depression" - with no known source.  This list encouraged me to watch for these reasons so that I may know how to appropriately respond - with rest and prayer. 

Spurgeon had great compassion for those who suffered, and yet tried to extend grace even to those who did not understand suffering.  He stated, "If these who laugh at such melancholy did but feel the grief of it for one hour, their laughter would be sobered into compassion."  So true.

I have wrestled deeply with emotional distress - the highs of ministry and the lows of perceived failure are both extremely familiar to me.  I believe the examples put forth in this book have enabled me to see emotional duress as something much more 'normal' in my missionally-focused life.  Resilience increases as we stand firmly on the examples of those who have walked before us, learn the lessons they left behind, and move forward to strengthen others.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Holy Spirit in Mission by Gary Tyra

In this book, Gary Tyra, a veteran missionary, presents a scholarly work about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and missional faithfulness in the Body of Christ.  He relates Biblical examples, and then describes the characteristics of those who relate with the Holy Spirit in ways that prompt them to speak and act in a missional way. 

This book challenged my theological boxes in a good way.  In the past 6 years on the mission field I have found that God does not operate inside of my theological position. 

Tyra believes that the Holy Spirit "can and must be related to in an interpersonal manner."  He calls all believers, especially "rank and file" Christians to engage in the exciting adventure of asking for prophetic direction in their daily life.  In many places in the world where the church has spread rapidly and exponentially, especially in the Global South, one of the paramount beliefs among the people is that God is living and active in their daily lives.  They have a personal sense of call and responsibility to engage in sharing Christ with their friends, families, and neighbors - and they directly engage the Holy Spirit - asking for words of direction, prayer or service.  Tyra asks - why can't this growth happen in the 'West'?  What paradigm shift is necessary for us to change our relationship with the Holy Spirit and our mission?

Tyra observes that we live in an age of religious relativism.  In direct contrast, prophetic messages demonstrate the power and uniqueness of the God we serve, and result in conversion.  Tyra believes that the essence of the Holy Spirit is truly "missional" - in opposition to those that emphasize only a personal "experience" or blessing.  This encounter with the Holy Spirit, he says, must produce outward-focused action, not only individual experience or blessing.

Tyra believes that Luke's portrayal of the Holy Spirit is primarily missional - based on the books of Luke and Acts - referencing Joel 2:28-29, that believers will all prophesy someday.  He sees Paul's portrayal of the Spirit as primarily soteriological (focused on salvation), but says that the two views are of course compatible.  To quote the book, " must be aknowledged that Luke's message overall seems to be that all Spirit-filled believers possess the capacity, like Ananias, to hear God's voice, receive ministry assignments, speak and act on Christ's behalf, make new disciples, and build up the church, offering a powerful refutation of religious relativism in the process!"

Tyra calls all evangelical believers to allow the Spirit to move them to action or speech that will impact those around us.  He says, "Speaking to myself as well as anyone else: what would happen if more evangelical church members became open to the idea that on any given day the Spirit of God might send them, like Philip, on a special ministry assignment?  How hard is it to say to someone, when appropriate, 'Hey, I could be wrong, but I just have this strong feeling that God wants me to tell you a story?' We might be surprised at how many hearts the Holy Spirit has already prepared for such an encounter."

Tyra recognizes that some believers self-identify as pentecostal-charismatic, and some do not.  Some do not believe that the Holy Spirit 'speaks' today.  He challenges this assumption with examples of prompting and guidance that even the most conservative among us would acknowledge were of the Lord.  He states, "What if the kind of prophetic activity I am describing here - obeying a significantly strong impression to humbly, gently speak and act in the name of the risen Christ really is, at least some of the time the work of  the Holy Spirit?  What kind of missional faithfulness would such a large-scale paradigm shift among evangelicals unleash in the Western world?"

Many of us have judged the idea of prophetic speech and action based on poor examples and abuse of this kind of speech.  We have read stories and heard dogmatic teachers tell us of the evils of this approach.  Tyra calls everyone to examine what Scripture says and to judge appropriately. 

Tyra reminds us that expectency tends to preceed experience.  I also concur that God seems to wait for us to have strong desire for His presence or direction before He gives it.  The stronger our desire, the greater He rewards that desire with specific guidance.  Might our assumption that the Spirit does not act and speak to us personally today hinder us from recognizing His voice?

Tyra challenges us to embrace this paradigm-shift, to embrace a "different way of being a Christian."  He asks us, "What if more evangelical church members were in the habit of taking seriously the promptings produced by the Spirit to speak and act toward those inside and outside the family of believers in loving, equipping ways (see Gal 6:10)?  How many more missionally effective acts of servant-like compassion might be generated?" 

To conclude - it is my personal experience on the mission field that my own talent and speech and efforts produce little without time on my knees.  It is also my experience that when I have felt a prompting to act or speak to someone that I think is of the Lord - it has resulted in fruit, and when I have ignored this prompting - it has been to the detriment of the Gospel. 

It is not the purpose of this blog to lay out my exact theological position, but I will say that this book has challenged me to ask God very directly for more of the Spirit's guidance and direction in my life - and ESPECIALLY in my missional lifestyle.  Perhaps the biggest question for me is not IF He will guide me, but WHEN He does give direction - will I obey?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Non-Evangelism by Carl Medearis

This is a controversial read...and yet I was challenged by it.  Meaderis' book wrestles with the idea of speaking of Jesus versus the (somewhat Western) mentality of event-evangelism: the sharing of our faith and bringing someone to conversion.  He contrasts a lifestyle as a Jesus-follower and the label of "Christian," or "Christianity."  His research and experience shows that people respond positively to Jesus, but negatively toward things labeled "Christian." 

Missiologists have wrestled with this idea for years - and Meaderis' experience living overseas shows how he has wrestled as well.  Put one way, this book is a kind of missiology on witnessing but in popular terminology and writing style.

First - I will review the positives - the things that challenged me.  At the end, I will share a few concerns. 

The strength of Medearis is his simplicity: bringing us back to JESUS, not religion.  As a missiologist might say when bringing the message of Jesus to another land:  bring the seed, not the whole tree.  Medearis nails this.  Leave the doctrinal explanations at home - stick to Jesus.

"The gospel is not a what. It is not a how. The gospel is a Who. The gospel is literally the good news of Jesus. Jesus is the gospel. ...E. Stanley Jones continues this thought in his book The Christ of the Indian Road: “The sheer storm and stress of things had driven me to a place that I could hold. Then I saw that there is where I should have been all the time. I saw that the gospel lies in the person of Jesus, that he himself is the Good News, that my one task was to live and to present him. My task was simplified.”"
In the West, we suffer from what one might call "control-freak Christianity" - our attempt to understand, explain and systematize all things of our faith - and then we err by trying to be sure anyone who wants to 'join our Christian club' understands all of those points too.  Meadearis reminds us, "Are we saved by our brains or our hearts?"  In other words, when we look at the life of Jesus - He did not explain all points of doctrine or 'make converts' - He simply invited people to follow Him.  That true discipleship changed them. 

Meadearis reminds us that Jesus was hardest on those who were religious, not those who were messy.  He was attracted to those who could acknowledge their need.  Medearis regularly asks those he is sharing with whom Jesus might prefer to 'hang out with' - and when the individual assumes its Medearis - he corrects them quickly.  "Jesus would go home with you," he says. 

One of the author's favorite hang-outs was a coffee shop/book store where some of the most "un-christianized" people in Colorado Springs hang out.  He asks - if Jesus were here today, where would HE hang out?  right here.  I agree wholeheartedly.  Jesus would not visit our mega-churches.  He would most likely be visiting bars on Christopher Street, or speaking words of hope in South-East Asia's slums and brothels.

When I personally read the words of Jesus - I often feel as though I fall so far short.  Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees often describes me so much more often than His words to the ill or the outcast: Medearis says it this way:  "Perhaps … those who think they’re “in” or that they know the way or have the truth need a bit of shaking. Legalism is the enemy of Jesus. soon as our attitudes shift from a humble “knowing” of Jesus to a know-it-all type of arrogance, we’re toast. We will be on the rebuking end of Jesus’ words."
Meadearis calls believers to simplify their idea of 'witnessing' - to love and listen to people, speak freely and often and boldly of Jesus and how He has changed your life.  Stop the Christianese and the endless explanations.  Let people be attracted to the Person of Jesus and begin to follow Him. YES.
I agreed with most of what Medearis has to say.  My one word of caution is that Medearis focuses almost completely on the beginning of walking with Jesus - on sharing with the lost and seeing them come to a place of discipleship of Jesus.  He does not address what brings believers to maturity - nor is it the purpose of his book.  There is a place and a need for solid doctrine.  Sometimes - we can develop a sort of reverse-pharisaism that sounds uber-spiritual because we choose to toss out the extras and "just keep Jesus."  Meaderis borders on this attitude - at least that is my perception. 
My other word of caution is that Jesus is the Gospel - and so we must not forget the completeness of the Gospel and the urgency of sharing this good news.  Yes, Jesus personifies the Gospel - but one cannot understand the power of that Gospel without grasping God's standards and laws and the price to be paid for sin that was spelled out in the Old Testament. 
My take-away application from this book is to speak loudly, boldly, freely, and lovingly of JESUS and how He has changed my life.  I love the idea of "leaving breadcrumbs" for Jesus - toss them out and see who picks them up and says - I want more! 
Yet - I find that one of the most effective forms of evangelism is to take those who respond to the "taste" of Jesus that was offered: and bring them into a small group study that begins in the Old Testament and works through key passages until the Person of Jesus is discovered by the participants.  Engaging the Word of God directly and personally changes people, and often - brings people to repentance and into the arms of Jesus. 
Well...this was a long blog post.  I read this book in about one day.  Its not a hard read.  It will challenge you and step on your toes - but its worth reading.  

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Kings Cross - by Tim Keller

There is never enough space on this blog to capture the fullness of some of the best books that I have read.  That is true now. 

The Kings Cross captures the Gospel story by going page by page through the book of Mark, giving not only the message of salvation - but an example of a life lived that gloried in service, and exalted in self-sacrifice.  Below are some of my favorite nuggets - and I will comment on how they impacted me. 

"...there are two ways to fail to let Jesus be your Savior. One is by being too proud, having a superiority complex—not to accept his challenge. But the other is through an inferiority complex—being so self-absorbed that you say, “I’m just so awful that God couldn’t love me.” That is, not to accept his offer."
Whether you struggle with superiority or inferiority- Jesus extends His offer of salvation to all. 
"There’s something else Mark wants his readers to think about. Isaiah says the Messiah will come to save us “with divine retribution.” But Jesus isn’t smiting people. He’s not taking out his sword. He’s not taking power; he’s giving it away. He’s not taking over the world; he’s serving it. Where’s the divine retribution? And the answer is, he didn’t come to bring divine retribution; he came to bear it. On the cross, Jesus would identify with us totally. On the cross, the Child of God was thrown away, cast away from the table without a crumb, so that those of us who are not children of God could be adopted and brought in. Put another way, the Child had to become a dog so that we could become sons and daughters at the table....Don’t be too isolated to think you are beyond healing. Don’t be too proud to accept what the gospel says about your unworthiness. Don’t be too despondent to accept what the gospel says about how loved you are."
The idea of the sacrifice of Jesus grows deeper and deeper throughout this book - defining not only our salvation story, but also the way in which we ought to live it out with one another.  Taking pain and rejection onto onself, 'eating' the pain and struggle - so that another might be free and full of joy. 
"But here is Jesus saying, “Yes, I’m the Messiah, the King, but I came not to live but to die. I’m not here to take power but to lose it; I’m here not to rule but to serve. And that’s how I’m going to defeat evil and put everything right.”...Jesus didn’t take power; he gave it up—and yet he triumphed. On the cross, then, the world’s misuse and glorification of power was exposed for what it is and defeated. The spell of the world’s systems was broken."
Keller repeats this theme in the book:  "All real, life-changing love is substitutionary sacrifice." 
When I hear stories of radical change, radical community-sweeping change: it doesn't revolve around a great preacher or powerful person or a strategic method: It revolves around a person who has been so captured by God, is so in love with Jesus, and so absolutely filled with the Spirit that he/she gives themselves away completely - meaning the loss of self, power, reputation, status, and more.  This is radical, life-changing SUBSTITUTIONARY SACRIFICE - that is only sustainable in our lives because Someone Else has done it on our behalf first. 
"Jesus says, 'My power is always moving away from people who love power and money. My power is always moving toward people who are giving it away, as I did. Where do you want to live?'"
The biggest impact of this book on my life was a renewed and deepened determination to submit with every ounce of my being to His glorious redemption in my life.  As one person put it, to be "thoroughly converted."  To open up the areas where pride and selfishness continue to control me, and to invite the Spirit in to 'clean house' and continually change me.
"Submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown.." - C.S. Lewis...quoted by Keller in this book