Clear, Winter Nights

Clear-Winter-Nights_1a-716x1024

Buy book here:

Clear Winter Nights: A Journey into Truth, Doubt, and What Comes After

In Clear, Winter Nights by Trevin Wax, Chris breaks up with his fiancee and stops participating in a church plant. The novel takes us on a journey through Chris’ questions from doubts stemmed by his religious studies professor.

Most of the novel takes place during Chris’ visit with his grandfather over New Year’s weekend. Some novels of this ilk come off as preachy and contrived, but not Clear, Winter Nights. I thought it eloquent in its delivery of Christian beliefs, bringing us back to the grace of Christ on the cross. The novel explores a common theme found in college life these days–doubt. Chris began to doubt his faith and his love for Ashley. Most of his doubt comes from the anger he doesn’t know resides inside of him for what his dad did, and in Clear, Winter Nights, Chris begins to face his demons.

Clear, Winter Nights gives us a novel filled with warmth, family values, and general acceptance of those who have questions. I gave this novel five stars and recommend it for doubting Christians.

*Book given by publisher to review.

Dangerous: Engaging The People and Places No One Else Will

51YQxCncF8LClick on the link below to buy:

Dangerous: Engaging the People and Places No One Else Will

Dangerous by Caleb Bislow is a book that will challenge the nominal American Christian into action.

Much like The Insanity of God by Nick Ripken, Dangerous isn’t the usual dry missionary letter aimed at filling an obligation. Caleb demonstrates a fearlessness in writing of his experiences in getting to his missionary program, “Unusual Soldiers.” Endorsed by legendary Bear Grylls as, “A book for aspiring heroes, about real heroes, by a quiet hero,” Dangerous is a how-to book in becoming a missionary.

Dangerous begins with Section One: In Search of Unusual Soldiers. I wouldn’t have begun the book this way when the description on the back of the book says, “In 2005, Caleb Bislow decided safety was overrated.” The first section speaks about Caleb’s program, Unusual Soldiers. While this wasn’t uninteresting, it certainly slowed down the book. In Section Two, the tension escalates and never slows down until the last sentence of the book.

Caleb writes about his experiences. He drained his savings and quit his job to go on a short term missions trip to Africa with just a backpack, Bible, and a few changes in clothing to sleep in a mud hut with a local and visit dangerous and unreached villages in Africa. In returning home, he felt that a short term missions trip wasn’t enough. People were brought to Christ in these villages, but no one stuck around to disciple them. So he worked with another ministry while living in his parent’s home as he and his wife began a family. Eventually, their financial situation improves and Caleb lands a job with a ministry who enthusiastically takes on his vision.

The rest of the book speaks about Caleb’s work with an African people and the raw work of a missionary. I like how he outlines the different ways both domestically and internationally how a Christian can turn from living the nominal Christian life as an American to living a die-hard life of a believer serving God’s purpose. Caleb also speaks about his program, Unusual Soldiers, as he trains people to survive in the most dangerous places on earth. He speaks about the amount of unreached people groups and on follow-through. This means not just popping into someone’s life to change it, but making sure the person or people changed get discipled and connected with proper teaching.

Dangerous has haunted me since closing the book. I gave this book four stars only because of the slow beginning, It starts slow and becomes very quickly an intense and resource-filled book.

*Book given by publisher to review.

So You Want Transformation…

From The Higher Calling

From The Higher Calling

Most people who put down blogging are people who don’t blog. Blogging is part-journaling and part-networking. It has purpose, and not just selling points.

I invite you to take the time to read my blog from when I began three years ago. If you want a picture of Jesus transforming a life, take your proverbial magnifying glass on my life. I invite you.

Jesus changed my life both physically and spiritually.

But I am not perfect.

Sometimes, I annoy people.

Sometimes, I care too much.

Sometimes, I am way too OCD about things.

But God is my Daddy. He is my Savior, my friend. Jesus is the reason I breathe, laugh, cry, and live. He is the reason for my change, but remember my humanity. I am not Jesus. Therefore, I cannot be Him. So if you are looking for perfection, it is not here. If you are looking for love, He loves perfectly. I may judge you or get annoyed at you, but I still love you.

Because Jesus loves you.

And you can learn a lot from re-reading your own blogs as well as see the transformation Jesus has done in a person’s life by reading someone else’s blog or journal.

A Culture of Indecision

listen1

A guest on Fox and Friends said, in order to keep a good job, you must take responsibility for your actions. Their target audience were millennials, but all ages are guilty, especially in this culture of indecision.

Examples often observed are the lack of commitments to anything from church membership to weekend plans, even to marriage. The culture waits until the eleventh hour to make plans or to decide not to attend. This serious lack of commitment in our society has bothered me.

The cure for the culture of indecision could be in creating better habits:

1: Keep a day planner or Google calendar. When you are asked about weekend plans, you can answer yes or no right away.

2: Make plans and keep them, even if on that day you get a better invitation someplace else or don’t mentally feel like showing up. I have often awoken in the morning before a full day and wished I could call in sick from my commitment. Short of family emergencies or illness, I am going to be there when I have committed to something.

3: Commit long or short term to a project or ministry. Practice makes for better habits. Start with a small project and commit fully to its vision. When obstacles come, find a way over or through them. Don’t let discouragement keep you from using your gifts.

4: Find a church and commit to its vision through the long haul, even when trials come. Church is often like the weather; bad weather comes, people fall away, and return again. Bad weather is a great time to stick it out and shine. Allow yourself to emotionally connect with others who attend that church and love them as good as family. Contribute to that church and help it become successful.

5: Find a job and hold on to it even when it’s no longer fun. Jobs are not fun. Even the fun jobs have moments where you absolutely hate it. They pay the bills and grow character. So stick with a good job and give them 110% no matter what they pay. You’ll earn more than a paycheck; you’ll earn people’s respect, and that in itself, is a very powerful testimony of your belief in Christ.

6: RSVP to an event yes or no; or follow up on your maybe. Be respectful to the host or hostess. They have to buy supplies for the party and need a head count. Don’t make them chase after you with follow-up phone calls and emails. Don’t be afraid to say no. Don’t forget to follow-up in short order on a maybe. I’ve forgotten to do that once and I felt bad, but haven’t done it since.

Matthew 5:37 struck me some months ago. It read:

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Like Fox and Friends said, take responsibility for your actions. A non-answer or not showing up allows the other to make sometimes wrong assumptions about you. The Bible implores us to be firm in our answers. Maybe that’s why I beat myself black and blue when I let someone down? I don’t want to hurt those I care about the most.

Book Review: This Beautiful Mess

*If you buy this book from Amazon, you’ll be helping me out. Click at the link after this sentence: This Beautiful Mess: Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God

171110

This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley mixes art with his purpose of changing our thinking from living as we wait for the Kingdom to living in the Kingdom. However, I left this book with mixed feelings.

The book begins very slowly. I put it down several times because I expected more meat, less dessert. It reads like many of the blogs I read online—beautiful, poetic, and Rick McKinley is quite a writer. The book is separated into parts. Some of the chapters include excerpts or what looks like poetry; an expression of worship, like dipping a banana in chocolate to make someone swallow the truth more pleasantly. What would be worship without beauty? God is, afterall, an artist, too. This Beautiful Mess gets into the truth, the meat, and my mind is satisfied, hungrily devouring every word.

This Beautiful Mess was written by an author who lives in liberal Portland. Naturally, one would expect a bit of leftist ideology in it. The author uses the word “rape” when referring to the environment in two places in the book, repeating himself.

“On the one hand, I see some evangelical communities and traditions that camp on the not-yet-end of the truth of the kingdom. They tend to look away from the disadvantaged, from issues of injustice or raping of the natural world for profit because…,” or here, “…understanding that creation was given to us to serve us. That doesn’t mean we’re free to rape the earth…” While the author stays vague so you’re not entirely sure how far left he thinks in regarding to environmental politics, it puts a conservative like me on alert. While I agree with taking care of the environment, I don’t agree with the more extreme environmentalists. With no specific examples, there’s too much room for assumption. He also has some black and white claims when comparing liberal and conservative churches.

At the 85% point of the book, he says the culture listens less because, “Jesus is not being lived out in the mess of their (conservative churches) lives. Christians are simply saying that Jesus is King without also living out His reign in the streets.” I attend a conservative church. We have two very large programs that take care of the disadvantaged in our community. Our church also did a 90 Days of Blessings to encourage our congregation to reach out beyond the walls of our church. To be fair, he also touches on the liberal church in the next paragraph. He devotes a large portion of the book to emotionalism and social justice.

This Beautiful Mess goes on about social justice, but, unless I missed it, I saw no change in the people who were warmed in the streets or who received free meals via many camp stoves. He praises a man who inherited $20,000 and gave it all way on Wall Street in small bills. I wonder what could have been done with that amount to double or triple his investment to do more good than a few dollars to temporarily help someone in need? In location 1988-1990, the author quotes Mother Theresa:

“My actions will preach. ‘There should be less talk; a preaching point is not a meeting point,’ said Mother Teresa. ‘What do you do then? Take a broom and clean someone’s house. That says enough.’” This is where I disagree. We have too much of this in the world and not enough truth balancing out the action. Even the secular people do kind things for others, but what makes Christians different than the culture? People are hungry for love and for truth, even if truth hurts, and we need both. I did see change in the single parent stories. I agreed with him about repentance and how much we all need it (in and out of church). I agreed with much of his Appendix.

Normally, I don’t read Appendix’s, but the author’s Appendix is basically a proposal to the church on how to reach a culture without compromising beliefs. The author says, “This may be the biggest stretch for many of us, because discipleship has tended to focus on matters of being part of the church while mission has been left to those going overseas.” People are a wreck in and out of the church. This Beautiful Mess, while too much fluff at times, beautifully illustrated how redemption through Christ is a spiritual miracle and it must be done through relationship, not rote; through repentance. I gave this book three stars.

*Book given by publisher to review.

How to Alienate Someone From Church

The easiest way to chase new people away from your church is to follow one or all of these choices:

  • Gossip about your former church. Tell them how horrible it was, question the leadership, and talk about the congregants as if they were all somehow at fault for what offended you. Then, tell them this church, your new church, is much more in line with what the Bible preaches. It doesn’t hurt anyone. Plus, you say, that other church wasn’t at all friendly. It had nothing to do with your Sylvester Stallone “Rocky” stance near the back of the church (you know that scene where Rocky faced the Russian?).
  •  Never make new friendships. Always sit in the same seat and look uncomfortable if someone sits next to you that isn’t your friend from small group. If someone is sitting in your seat, make all sorts of strange noises like you are offended, but way too polite to say so. If necessary, do a Seinfeld and sneeze and cough violently without covering your mouth. That should make them move.
  • Put down the other services.  Personally, I like my music. It’s far superior than what they are listening to; or so I tell myself. If you argue and complain about the other service enough, perhaps more will come to your service. Perhaps if you force them to sit in your service and listen to your music, they will eventually love it as much you do. There’s nothing like classical music after getting two hours of sleep the night before because the baby wouldn’t stop crying. If they still won’t come to your service, I would suggest making faces about it when someone mentions the service.
  • Put down the leadership. Like sports fans everywhere, we know better than the coaches what the team ought to do to get more believers, more baptisms, or more money in the church. We love to tell people what to do or say, but we are way too busy to plan or start anything or to help. Programs afterall are the product of magic. They sprout and become mammoth and amazing ministries we could just walk into and enjoy.
  • Go online and complain. Oh, this one hurts.

Okay, seriously….when I mention all of these things, I am thinking of the common complaints I read online via various blogs, magazine or sermons on how to re-imagine or re-think church, and heard elsewhere. But when I wrote some of them I also thought of me. When was the last time I made a new friendship that took more than a two second like on Facebook? When have I said I could do something better and had to put my feet where my words were in order to prove it which didn’t come without hurt feelings from the other party? In a conversation with Tony, we discussed how unified some religions are compared to others. Why are they unified?

Because they don’t do any of the above, at least, not online, in church, or among their friends or family members. Church begins with us and our actions. Church is like family where everything you do has influence, and like Tom Garasha said last Sunday, our own running away from God could have collateral damage–the poor choices in our lives that affect others. Because our running away from God, like justifying our behavior or being too judgmental towards others to hide our own inconsistencies, can hurt the people we influence. The above examples are easy ways to drive a seeker right into the arms of a cult. If Christ’s church won’t accept someone, the devil will gladly take them, warmly enveloping them in false theology.

Your Livelihood or Your Faith?

persecution1

Worldnet News Daily jerked me out my Christian slumber when their headlines read, “U.S. Court: Choose Faith or Livelihood.” It caused me to ask: What would I choose if faced with that kind of persecution?

The picture above is what I created to illustrate the headlines. This is not some “right-wing conspiracy theory”, but a real threat. If business owners or workers are forced to choose between their faith or their livelihood we could see a new era evolve that closely resembles India’s caste system; real poverty, like a third world country where Christians (and anyone who disagrees with the elite of the country) are the aliens.

WND’s article says, “The stunning verdict came in a case brought by lesbians against Elane Photography. The lesbians wanted the photographer to document their “wedding,” and the studio declined, claiming it would violate the Christian faith of the owners. Tough luck, said judges Edward Chavez, Petra Jimenez Maes, Charles Daniels, Barbara Vigil and Richard Bosson. They make clear the company has the option of going out of business.”

This verdict isn’t new. Fox News reports how a Colorado gay couple is suing a bakery for not providing a cake. In Washington State, ABC News reports a florist is being sued for not providing flowers for a same-sex wedding. In England, Lifesitenews reports how a gay couple is suing a church for not providing the wedding of his dreams. Two Catholic Innkeepers are being sued for refusing to host a gay wedding.

In this anti-bullying fever, it’s amazing how no one is pointing out the obvious; how the same people who want to live in peace are forcing people out of business or asking them to compromise their deeply held religious beliefs using the tactics of a bully. A gay congressman has even mentioned taking a Christian’s children away. This is re-enforced by what an ASU professor said from an atheist’s standpoint, because it’s not just gays attacking Christians, but some atheist groups and individuals are also working at eradicating Christianity from the fabric of America. But the Bible is clear on persecution and trials:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” 1 Peter 4:12-14 (ESV)

I’m not sure us latte-sippin’, iphone playin’ Christians are ready for this choice. There are exceptions. One woman I know has decided she will die as a missionary in a hostile country. Every day is survival mode as buildings blow up, but she is determined and an inspiration to me. What would America look like if we lived and died for Christ, like a Billy Graham or a Nate Saint?

I’m not even sure what that looks like in America. After attending service at a Navajo church on our own, independently funded, missions trip, I saw the church stripped down to faith and truth. No bands. No battle over hymns or contemporary music. No private membership feel or getting lost in a crowd or alienated by a clique. No one went without. No place is perfect, but it’s a reminder to me how complicated and consumoristic we have made church.

So what would we choose, if forced to choose between living a comfortable life in a house, two cars, and yearly vacations or living destitute like a homeless person only with no free meals or hot showers? The latter, of course, could be those of us who choose Christ, and as in the India Caste system, become the ‘untouchables.’  Are we ready? What would you choose if faced with that very real possibility of losing everything you’ve worked hard to keep?