Book Review: Prayer

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I’ve had several books that I am working on this month and I’ve finished them all about the same time. This book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller is the latest. Keller, as many of you know, is a pastor in New York City, a prolific writer, and a great thinker within the Church today. I find his books to be accessible and challenging.

Keller breaks the book up into sections which move from the Biblical understanding of prayer to the application of how to pray. The author likens the book as a “master’s class in prayer” as he uses the prayer lives and writings of the great thinkers and pray-ers of the church; men like St. Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther and John Owens. Keller provides an all-star lineup as he gives the reader a glimpse into the lives of these men (and others).

I started looking for some quotes to entice you with, but then the post would be quite long. I did, however, really like his final chapters on application because I think that many people have never really been taught to pray. For me, and many others, we have been taught to have a “daily quiet time” which mostly consisted of some sort of devotional reading or inductive Bible study. Keller encourages the reader to move beyond the “traditional twentieth-century evangelical devotional practices as well as the current restoration of medieval prayer forms.” He believes that we should pay greater attention to the Protestant theologians of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. He suggests doing this by:

  1. Praying for often: Rather than having just one quiet time a day, Keller suggest having various set times of prayer, much like the Daily Offices.
  2. Prayers that are more Biblical: By this he means prayers that are grounded in systematic Bible reading and study as well as disciplined meditations on passages. If we are going to have intimacy with God, then we need to ground ourselves in God’s Word as we already have it.
  3. More corporate. While we continue to pray privately, there is something about gathering together in community to pray and to learn to pray from one another as we gather in worship. While Keller doesn’t completely come down on extemporaneous prayer in worship, he says that these “spontaneous” prayers do not help the congregation learn to pray.
  4. Expecting more experiences in the full range of prayer: We should come to expect the joy, awe, and wonder of God as well as encountering the “Dark Night of the Soul.”

Keller’s book gave me a lot to think about and consider in my own prayer life. I think this would be a good book for personal study and reflection for anyone wanting to grow in their ability to pray.

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Book Review: Surprise the World

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One of the books that has had a lasting impact on my ministry is Michael Frost’s book Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. This book helped me understand ministry in our current context and the importance of living missionally- which I believe is more than a buzzword within the church. Last night I finished his latest book, Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People. I found this small book to pack a big punch is helping Christians understand that living missionally is not a “one-off” series or an event, but that missional living has to do with the habits that we cultivate that cause us to “live questionable lives.”

Since finishing the book, this phrase of “living questionable lives” has been rolling around my head. Frost premise is that our habits as Christians should lead people to question our lives. Questions that can organically lead to conversations about our faith and our God. I know that from a pastoral vantage, I have preached, encouraged, and taught my congregation that our lives should look differently than the world. Frost provides a framework on how we do that with just a few habits. These habits came out of his community, and it would make sense for other faith communities create their own values and habits contextually- but for the sake of the book Frost’s five habits are a great starting point for conversation. So what are these habits? Frost provides an acronym of BELLS.

Bless-I will bless three people this week- one of whom is not a member of my
church
Eat- I will eat with three people this week; one from outside of my church
Listen- I will spend at least one period of the week listening to the Spirit’s
leading
Learn-I will spend at least one period of the week learning Christ
Sent- I will journal throughout the week all the ways I alerted others to the
universal reign of God through Jesus.

I’m not going to go into the details of each letter of the acronym other than to say that I think this habits are helpful for myself and my congregation in living “questionable lives.”

In a increasingly post-Christian culture, Surprise the World provides a helpful framework for individuals and groups to understand how the ordinary habits of our lives can impact the world around us. I recommend this book as you seek to live a “questionable life!”

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To Carol or Not to Carol

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This past Sunday, we hosted an old-fashioned Pastor’s Christmas Open House at our place where 50 people from both of our churches gathered for a few hours of cookies and conversation. We had a blast hosting everyone as we really enjoy opening our house.

What we did next was also a little old fashioned. We went Christmas Caroling in our neighborhood.

Now, our Christmas caroling almost didn’t happen. A few weeks ago, Andrea and I listened to the Relevant Podcast (one of our favorites) where Cameron and the gang discussed caroling. Jesse Carey called it trespassing (I imagine he’s a bit like Clint Eastwood saying “Get off my lawn!”) Cameron turns off his lights when he hears them coming. A question was asked as to whether you should tip carolers! As Andrea and I listened we both wondered if maybe we shouldn’t take our group caroling. We are new in the neighborhood. We really don’t know any of our neighbors well yet. But we decided to do it.

The response was surprising.

  • One family, said that they had lived in the neighborhood for forty years and that no one had every caroled there before. They said they were blessed.
  • Another house, who is a young family with two young kids texted us later thanking us for stopping by. They said, “I had only heard of caroling and never experienced it. My girls were so excited to see your group. Thanks for thinking of us.”
  • Another neighbor stopped me the following day thanking us for stopping by. She said that it was overwhelmed with the Christmas spirit as we sang.

The bottom line is that we had a blast singing with our neighbors. I’m glad we decided to do it.  We enjoyed sharing the light of Christ at Christmas by singing about Jesus’ birth. We were blessed to bring some joy to our neighbors and continue to get to know them as we live together in community.

What have you done (are doing) this Christmas to share God’s love with your neighbors?

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Awkward Family Christmas: Rahab’s Faith

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At Hope and Magnolia churches, we began a new series called “Awkward Family Christmas.” On the Sunday’s leading up to Christmas, we’ll be looking at some of the people in Jesus’ genealogy found in Matthew 1 and consider the “awkward” circumstances of their lives and consider that if they are part of Jesus’ family tree, then there is room for you and me!

Faith. We hear the word all the time in the church. We know we should have faith in God, but there are times when we find faith hard to come by. We can allow fear, anxiety, and our own sin and brokenness to limit our faith.

One of the remarkable people in Jesus’ family tree found in Matthew 1 is the person of Rahab. She was a foreigner and she is known as a prostitute. Not necessarily what you’d tell the great grandkids about. But at a time when the rest of the city of Jericho was “melting in fear” because of the advancing armies of Israel (more importantly, fear about the God of the Israelites)- Rahab found faith. She confessed her faith to the two spies who stayed at her home,

“When we it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Joshua 2:11

Rahab in the midst of fear about Israel advancing on Jericho found faith in God and became part of the people of Israel. Matthew states that she was the mother of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David- and a relative of Jesus the Messiah.

Faith comes in unexpected places.

Rahab’s life was transformed through this profession of faith: going from a prostitute to a direct relative of Jesus. If Rahab is included in Jesus’ family tree, with her sinfulness, then there is room for you and me. In fact, Rahab was included in the “Hall of Faith” listed in Hebrews 11:31,

“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” 

As we wait this Advent and Christmas season for the coming of Christ, it may be through a simple confession of faith that our lives are transformed through Jesus Christ, our Savior. It is our faith in Jesus the move us forward into action in the world. It is our faith in Jesus that transforms us into new creations through Jesus our Lord.

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Resources for Advent 2014

It’s Advent! And last year I posted some resources that I use during the season of Advent. While writing this, I am listening to the music listed in the post. What resources are you using to spiritually prepare for Jesus?

Exiled Community

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One of the favorite memories as a kid was the Advent Countdown that my mom made my sister and I. Each day of Advent, we’d get a piece of candy and countdown the days until Christmas. It was a way of helping us understand the anticipation and excitement of Christ’s appearing at the first Christmas and when Christ will come again.

Advent is a 4 week season of anticipating the appearance of Jesus. It is a time for followers of Jesus to create a new rhythm in their lives of waiting, watching, and anticipation. Today, Advent is a direct rebellion to the consumeristic Christmas that is pervasive in our culture- where Wal-Mart has their Christmas displays up in October. Advent says, “Slow down, wait and watch for Jesus rather than rushing to the manger.”

I thought that this year I would share some resources that I will be using this…

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Awkward Family Christmas: Pt. 1

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Yesterday, at Hope and Magnolia churches, we began a new series called “Awkward Family Christmas.” On the Sunday’s leading up to Christmas, we’ll be looking at some of the people in Jesus’ genealogy found in Matthew 1 and consider the “awkward” circumstances of their lives and how remarkable it is that they are included in Jesus’ family line. We’ll make a jump to consider the people sitting around our holiday tables and in our communities and how God invites each of us (regardless of our awkwardness) to be sons and daughters through the live, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The first person we considered was Tamar, found in Genesis 38. It’s not a scripture that we spend a lot of time on- mostly because dressing like a prostitute to sleep with your father-in-law does not translate well to Sunday School curriculum! While I could fill several blog post on Tamar and what is happening in the story- here is what I think is most important. After being married twice (both husbands die without any offspring- leaving Tamar vulnerable and at risk in ancient culture) Tamar is denied by her Father-in-law to be married to his youngest son when became of age (she was getting a reputation as a black widow evidently). The expectation of Judah was to give his son to marry Tamar in order to keep the inheritance and land in the family- as well as to protect Tamar. His actions were unjust. Tamar took matters into her own hands to secure her own future and safety- something that Judah was supposed to do.

Tamar went to great lengths to secure her future. It makes me think of the great lengths that some of my friends (and yours) go in order to pursue their own future and families.

I am increasingly aware (sorry its taken so long) of the struggle that many couples have with infertility. Over the last several weeks, many of those couples were willing to share their stories with me. Stories of awkward conversations (at best) and hurtful words that were meant to be encouragement from loved ones and friends. They shared with me about the disappointment and despair that they felt (and many continue to feel). They shared about their anger towards friends who conceive and their anger towards God. I have to admit that I was a little teary hearing about the great lengths that some of my friends have gone to conceive (daily injections, etc.) only to have a doctor tell them, “I’m sorry.”

I think we all know that the holidays are some of the most difficult times for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. What we do not always realize is that among us are those who are grieving and mourning the loss of their future and a hope of a family. This kind of ambiguous grief is harder for friends and family to identify and sometimes is hard for the person grieving to be aware of- but it is grief none-the-less.

Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) is a season of waiting and expectation. It is knowing that the sun will rise and dispel the darkness of the night. As Christians, we are called to walk with those who walk in the darkness of those who grieve, who are depressed, and who are lost. Rather than being quick to offer empty words of comfort, our best ministry tool is our presence and our willingness to feel the pain of our friends. We can offer a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and a constant attitude of prayer for our friends and family. In this way, we embody the presence of Christ through our ministry of presence.

The prophet Isaiah writes, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

When we walk with those who mourn, who grieve, whose lives are filled with despair and the loss of hope, we bring the light of Christ with us. That light is knowable in the darkness- and the closer we walk towards and with the light of Christ, the more the darkness is dispelled from our lives.

This Advent, seek the light of Christ. Walk with the light. Know the Hope of Jesus, our Savior.

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What I’ve Been Reading This Year

I sometimes post reviews of the books that I am reading on here (and I’ll continue to do so) but have not in some time. So for the sake of time, I thought that I would share some quick thoughts on books that I have read recently (2015). This won’t be exhaustive, but will provide some insight on what has been on my nightstand of late.

AccidentalSaints

Accidental Saints- Finding God in All the Wrong People (Nadia Bolz-Weber)
This is the most recent book I’ve finished (just the other night). I saw Nadia speak at a recent conference I attended which led to the purchase of the book. I admire her ministry and her transparency in her book- and her recognition of grace in a messy world. I will admit, the cursing got old quick. I don’t think I’m prudish about language, it just got to the point where it did not advance or add anything to the narrative. I found her chapter called “Frances,” which was on Mental Illness to be particular moving and worth buying the book for.

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Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Old Losing Streak (Travis Sawchik)
This was a summer read while I was on vacation. Sawchik tells the story of how the Pittsburgh Pirates finally ended a streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons by changing the way they analyze baseball using saber metrics. Think Moneyball, only better.

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The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate: (John H. Walton)
The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2 & 3 and the Human Origins Debate (John H. Walton)
The book of Genesis, especially the first three chapters, is the source of much confusion and misunderstanding. Does it tell us how the world was formed in 6 days? Or something else? Was Adam and Eve real, historical people or archetypes for humanity? John H. Walton gives two excellent books that seeks to help the reader understand the ancient world in which the narratives were written and how they are MUCH different than today. He warns that we cannot read our cosmology and culture into the text, but have to understand how an ancient reader/listener would have understood it. I though these books were excellent!

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The Martian (Andy Weir)
I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. As a sci-fi fan I enjoyed the premise and the story. I felt it got a little bogged down in the details at times, but it read as a plausible story rather than some fantasy sci-fi account. I haven’t had the opportunity to see the movie yet, but I am looking forward to it!

unbroken

Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (Laura Hillenbrand).
I am late to the game on this book, but it was powerful. There were several times when I had tears streaming down my face late at night while I read as I considered the brutality that Louis Zamperini faced on the open sea and as a POW in Japan during WWII. I think this is a must read for courage, integrity, and the importance of hope and faith.

That is a summary of what I’ve been reading. I’ve left a few things out, and I start a new book tonight. What have you been reading? Anything good?

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