Mid-Year Top 10

As we head into summer, I thought I’d share with you the top ten books I’ve read so far in 2017:

 

10.  42 Faith, by Ed Henry- A unique biography that looks at the peculiar role Jackie Robinson’s faith (along with Branch Rickey, the man who signed him to the Brooklyn Dodgers) played in sustaining the first African American Major League baseball player. 

9. Sabbath as Resistance, Walter Brueggaemann- I’ve long loved his writings, but this short book on the importance of the Sabbath shows us how we can go to war with the consumer and capitalistic spirit of our western culture. 

8. Dream With Me, John Perkins- I had the privilege of endorsing this book, and when I got my advance copy I immediately went to the chapter chronicling the death of his son Spencer.  I’ve never heard “pops” (as I call Dr. Perkins) talk about this, and finally and painfully he does.  This is just a glimpse into the vulnerability of this work.

7. The Blood of Emmett Till- Timothy B. Tyson- It was the decision to have the open casket of this tortured teenager that sparked the Civil Rights Movement.  But it was the lie of the white woman that began the whole journey.  She now comes forward and confesses her deceit.  What a read.

6. Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis- I’m indebted to the preaching faculty at Gordon Conwell for turning me onto this book.  It’s hard to believe this novel was released in the 1920s, because it’s tragically still relevant today.  Every preacher must read this as it outlines the spirit of professionalism that tempts us all.

5. The Fire This Time, Jesmyn Ward- Released on the fiftieth anniversary of James Baldwin’s work, The Fire Next Time, this collection of essays offers the best book on race I’ve read in the last five years.

4. The Crucifixion, Fleming Rutledge- Most comprehensive book on the cross I’ve ever read.  I will be returning to this book for the balance of my ministry.

3. Becoming Ms. Burton, Susan Burton- A painful true tale of an inner city woman who is sexually abused, beaten, becomes a prostitute and does several stints in jail, only to “break free” and become a vessel of hope in the age of mass incarceration.  This redemptive tale follows the likes of A Piece of Cake, and other such works. 

2. Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon- Why am I just now reading this?  Phenomenal.

1. Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell- I read this when it first came out and then promptly got rid of it, along with 5,000 or so of my other books when we moved to NYC.  I missed this work so much I bought and read it again. 

When I Don’t Hear From God...

Every last one of us has asked the question, What’s next?  High school students trying to figure out where to go for college have asked this question.  So have college students trying to lock in on a major (80% will change majors at least once), along with singles who are in a dating relationship and married people needing to discern when to have kids and how many.  While these questions defy any unique faith category, Christians have historically filed these under the heading of the will of God.  “God, what are you saying?”, we groan when faced with life’s proverbial forks in the road.  

But this very question now sparks an age-old theological debate.  While Christ followers contend that Christ does speak, we can be at odds over the method.  Sure God’s primary voice is the Word of God, but does he also speak audibly?  Garry Friesen’s, Decision Making and the Will of God, is weighted towards the no, while the title to Dallas Willard’s, Hearing God, let’s you know where he stands on the question.  

If you’re looking for an answer to whether you should attend Stanford or Morehouse, marry Shiela or break up with her or take the out of state job, you just won’t find a chapter or verse in the Bible that will give you that answer.  So what are we to do when faced with these decisions?  I’ve found the following steps to be helpful:

Step One: Ask Him

In John 10 Jesus describes himself as the door and the Good Shepherd.  The metaphor of the door points to salvation- how one gets into the sheepfold of the flock of God.  The metaphor of the Good Shepherd depicts Jesus’ relationship with his sheep once they’re in.  Then Jesus says, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4).  The Greek word for know is an intuitive knowledge, like the kind of knowing I had when after a few months of dating Korie I just knew she was going to be my wife.  Or the kind of knowing one has when they meet someone for the first time and just know something’s not right.  It’s that knowledge the sheep have when their shepherd speaks.  Do you see what’s being implied here?  The Shepherd is speaking long after the sheep have come through the door (of salvation).  Jesus speaks.

A few chapters later Jesus pictures the Holy Spirit as our guide.  Now what does a guide do?  He speaks.  When I was a little boy my father taught me the timeless principles of fishing; things like how to bait a hook, cast and reel.  A few years ago I went on a fishing trip where I hired a guide.  All he did was take the basic truths I’d learned of fishing and he showed me how to apply them in specific places at specific times so that I had great success.  This is how the Holy Spirit works with the Word.  The Word gives us the timeless principles, and the Holy Spirit- our guide- shows us how to apply them in specific ways.  We just need to ask him.

Step Two: Use Wisdom

In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard tells the story of a preacher who was out in the middle of a field late one night, and he couldn’t see.  The field was full of rocks which made his journey treacherous.  Several times he heard someone calling his name.  Finally he stopped and felt around.  It was a good thing he did this.  A few more feet and he would have died.  Oh, by the way, he never saw the person who was speaking to him, and concluded it had to have been God.  

Can I confess to you that this rarely happens to me.  Maybe a handful of times in my whole life have I heard the voice of God in this way.  The normal pattern for me is that I pray and ask God to speak into something, and I don’t hear anything.  Now what?

There’s a whole section of the Bible called Wisdom Literature.  Books like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and several others make up this genre of Scripture.  Wisdom is skillful living.  It’s practically applying the timeless principles of Scripture to the specific scenarios of every day life.  Now this is interesting, because embedded in the very idea of wisdom is choice.  

By the end of this year my boys will be teenagers, and what I’m trying to do, the older they get, is to not tell them exactly what they need to do.  Hard, I know.  I think good parenting empowers children to make age appropriate decisions.  I also think this is how God parents us.  A sign of immaturity is the need to be told exactly what to do in every situation.  It’s the mature person who can make decisions within certain parameters.  

So, when I don’t hear from God, I take that as God saying, make a decision.  Now I know this will rub some of you the wrong way, because you think God needs to speak into every decision you make.  But can I ask you a question?  Did you pray about what pants to wear today?  Or if you should wear pants at all?  Did you pray about brushing your teeth, or where to get gas?  Of course you didn’t, and you shouldn’t.  We make decisions every day, wise one’s.  It’s the child who needs to be told to brush his teeth.  The mature person doesn’t.  Again, when you don’t hear anything from God, make the decision, a wise one.  But how do we do that?

Step Three: Figure Out the Fences

Imagine your child asks you if she can play in the backyard.  You say yes, but a few minutes later she comes in and says can I play on the slide?  You agree.  A few minutes later she asks if it’s okay to play on the swing set?  Of course, you say.  Then she asks comes back in moments later and asks if she can play in the sandbox.  You look your sweet daughter in the face and tell her your will is she plays within the fences of the backyard, and she can make whatever decision she wants as long as its within those fences.

The same holds true for us.  I think it’s good to ask God about our “sandboxes,” but when we don’t hear an answer we have to figure out the fences- those biblical parameters- that will help us make a decision.  So, for example, when thinking through a job situation, it’s always helpful to process these fences: 1. Will the job contribute to the common good of society; 2. Will it allow me to provide for my family (As a man this is my call); 3. Has God given me the gifts and capacity to meet the demands of the job?  While there’s more questions we could ask, these are the fences.  Now we are free to choose.

For more insight into the will of God, tune into our Next series by downloading our app.  Type in ALCF in your app store.  

 

The Big 10 of Disciple-Making

Recently our church hosted its first Discipleship Summit- an event focused towards equipping Christ-followers in the Bay in how to lead multiplication movements in their spheres of influence (at home, neighborhood, work, etc). To help us with this we brought in Dr. Kennon Vaughan, one of the worlds foremost leaders when it comes to discipleship. In his second session, Kennon gave what he called, “The Ten How-To’s of Disciple-Making”. Here they are:

1. Pray for the people I want to invest in- I Thessalonians 10:8. This could begin with taking a prayer walk through your neighborhood and praying for your neighbors.

2. Meet them where they are. Disciple-making is not a cookie cutter approach.

3. Start small and raise the bar. Don’t begin the relationship saying you want to disciple them. Instead, try simply inviting them out to lunch to hear their story.

4. A life-on- life approach. Remember, disciple-making is to be in the context of relationships.

5. The goal is heart transformation, not behavior modification. Don’t become a Pharisee obsessed with pointing out their sins.

6. Start with the end in mind. You want them to be a committed follower of Jesus, who reproduces the things you’ve taught them into the lives of others.

7. Stretch them. This could involve having them teach from time to time, or share their faith.

8. Expose them to other faithful people. Don’t make yourself the “star of the show”. We can combat this by inviting others in from time to time who have a long track record of gospel faithfulness and fruitfulness.

9. Involve them in the local church. No, they may not need to come to your church, but it’s important to give them a high view of the local church and encourage them to join one. The apostles knew nothing of disciple-making that was isolated from the church.

10. Be a builder of good curriculum. Disciple-making will force you to study and develop tools that have transferable principles to pass on.

 

What Does God Have to Say About This Friday Night?

This Sunday we begin a series on dating at Abundant Life called, What Does God Have to Say About this Friday Night?  No, I don’t have plans to turn this into a book, or a desire to become the hip church in the Bay.  So why am I doing this series then?

A few years ago, for the first time since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping records, the majority of American adults were single (50.2%).  If you’re wondering where in America is the best place to find a working single man between the ages of twenty-five to thirty-four, it’s the Bay, with San Jose being the top ranked city in America for available single working men.  In fact, around here, San Jose has come to be called “Man Jose,” for these very reasons (By the way, several other Bay area cities rank in the top ten as well).  For every one hundred working female singles, “Man Jose,” has one hundred and fourteen.  For these reasons and more, every church in the Bay that wants to be viable and flourishing, should have a strategy to actively engage this growing demographic.

Korie and I have three singles living in our home- our kids, Quentin, Myles and Jaden.  All of my conversations with them center around one of three areas, we call them “The Three M’s”: Who’s your Master?  What’s your mission?  Who’s your mate?  Answer these three questions correctly and you’re on a trajectory for a God glorifying life rich with meaning. 

Any discipleship plan has to hover around these core questions.  And while not every single person will marry, just about all will wrestle with the question of who is their mate?  Our series is specifically designed to provide meaningful answers to help equip our people in the Bay for how to navigate this area well.  This is a part of our core curriculum as disciples of Jesus.

So I hope you’ll join us as we set off this Sunday, using the story of Isaac and Rebekah’s courtship in Genesis 24 as our guide. 

To listen to this series download our app in your app store.  Just type in ALCF.

Slavery and the Scriptures: Straight Licks With Crooked Sticks

Slavery and the Scriptures:

Straight Licks With Crooked Sticks

There’s certain verses in the Bible that rub me the wrong way. Like when Peter says that slaves are to be subject to their masters (I Peter 2:18). Verses like these remind me that it really is impossible to do theology detached from one’s culture, ethnicity or worldview. We all have a set of lenses through which we see the Scriptures, and the sooner we “see” this truth, the better off we are.

That’s right, my blackness hermeneutically prejudices me.

And so does your whiteness…

Asian-ness…

Hispanic-ness…

And so on…

The great Howard Thurman’s own grandmother refused to even read much of the epistles on account of verses like I Peter 2:18. As a former slave she found herself appalled by the perceived passivity of the likes of Peter and Paul. Her white enslavers actually used these verses as a means to subjugate their slaves to this evil system.

I was sharing my faith recently with a woman on a plane, and one of her first arguments against the veracity of Christianity is that the Bible approves slavery. While she didn’t cite the verse, she was clearly referring to passages like the Peter one to build her case. It was then that I was reminded of the importance to speak intelligently about the Bible and slavery.

Specifically, I have found these two things helpful:

First, Roman Slavery was not American Slavery:

This is pretty straight forward. American slavery was devastatingly based on a system of permanence. Except in the case of rare exceptions, you were a slave for life. In Roman times, however, slaves were typically emancipated at the age of thirty.

American slavery was a system solely based on race. If you were black you were a slave. Period.

Roman slavery was based on conquered nations. Some guesstimate that there were around sixty million slaves at the time of Peter’s writing. Most of these slaves were former professionals. Doctors. Lawyers. Educators. In many instances they were more educated than their masters. And, in most cases their skin color was the same.

The second and most telling thing, however, is that people should know that the Bible does speak very pointedly against what would become the American system of slavery:

“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (I Timothy 1:8-10, emphasis mine).

There it is. Paul, the same one who also talked about slaves being subject to their masters, says that enslavers are in the same class as murderers, liars and the sexually immoral.

To be an enslaver is to be a part of a system that captures people made in the image of God and sells them into bondage. What are Paul’s thoughts on these kinds of people involved in these kinds of acts?

They’re godless.

And here is what brings me to my knees:

God allowed godless enslavers who totally misused the Bible to bring people like Howard Thurman’s grandmother, and my great-great-grandfather, along with millions of others to faith in Jesus Christ.

If ever there was a case of God hitting a straight lick with a crooked stick…