Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Top 10 Reads

There are many times on this blog that I write things that are met with some level of resistance or skepticism. I certainly understand these feelings as most of the time the things that I am writing are things that people might be reading and therefore thinking about for the first time. I have used this blog on the rare occasion for actually processing outwardly, but for those who know me, it is very rare for me to process a thought outwardly, especially in a forum like this. The truth is, most of the things that hit this blog are thoughts that I've been processing for weeks or months, if not years. Usually, my processing begins with something that I read, hear in a podcast, discuss with a friend or experience in real life.

I am an avid reader. I believe that the best way to be challenged in thought patterns is by getting outside of myself, moving out from under the thought patterns and beliefs that I hold to and allowing other's thoughts and views to challenge what I may think about something. I believe that questions are good and questioning our own thoughts and beliefs can be healthy and positive. For this reason, I choose to read a variety of books, some of which I agree with, others of which I don't. 

Since I have not had the opportunity to actually process thoughts and experiences with many of you who consistently read this blog, I thought it would be helpful to give my top 10 book recommendations. These 10 books, along with my reading and understanding of scripture have radically impacted my life and my understanding of who Jesus is and his kingdom message. If you are one who is continually looking to have your mind and heart challenged, I would encourage you to consider these books. You will probably love some of them. You will probably not love some of them. All the same, my encouragement would be that you allow yourself to be challenged in heart and mind. If you choose to pick up any of these titles, I would love to hear your thoughts as you read through it and upon completion. Happy reading!

Top 10

  1. Simply Christian (N.T. Wright)  
  2. The Myth of a Christian Nation (Greg Boyd)
  3. Surprised by Hope (N.T. Wright)
  4. Christianity Beyond Belief (Todd Hunter)
  5. Imminent Domain (Ben Witherington)
  6. The Last Word (N.T. Wright)
  7. Evolving in Monkey Town (Rachel Held Evans)
  8. The Myth of a Christian Religion (Greg Boyd)
  9. Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community (Andrew Marin)
  10. Jesus Wants to Save Christians (Rob Bell)
Bonus Round
  1. Velvet Elvis (Rob Bell)
  2. This Beautiful Mess (Rick McKinely)
  3. Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller)
  4. One Life (Scot McKnight)
  5. Not the Religious Type (Dave Schmelzer)
Now, it's your turn. What are your top 3 book recommendations?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Engaging Life

Life moves so fast these days and I find that I have trouble keeping up. The subtitle of this blog is 'Learning to live and love and be engaged in the everyday, ordinary moments' and yet I find that many days I forget to engage. Engaging seems to be a conscious decision that I have to make. Thankfully, this has been a week full of conscious decisions to slow down and engage and for this, I am so grateful.

This week I experienced fullness in life in a number of ways through engaging:

  1. Being fully present at my boys swim meet (which means I left my phone in my pocket!)
  2. When texting a long distance friend, I accidentally called him. I noticed before he answered but decided not to hang up and talk if he did answer. That conversation was wonderful and it was refreshing spending time actually dialoguing instead of texting.
  3. A visit to the hospital to spend about 20 minutes with a friend who was there turned into an hour long stay as we laughed and talked. I learned so much about this amazing person as I just had the opportunity to sit and listen.
  4. Having breakfast with a friend who I haven't shared a meal with in over a year. His life stories were amazing to hear and I learned so much from him about life, redemption and second chances through our conversation.
  5. Relaxing on my back porch one evening with a couple of friends talking about politics, travel, religion, girls (our wives) and more. 
  6. Falling asleep aware of the sound of rain on my roof.

Engaging life is a beautiful thing. May we all spend more time practicing engagement.

How about you? Where did you engage life this week?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Church of Beautiful Letdowns

I began working on this blog about 4 weeks ago. In that time, one blogger that I follow posted a blog in which she posed the question 'Have you found a congregation in which Jesus and his friends would be welcome?' Today's post has turned into my response.

Not long ago, I had to go to the doctor. I had not been able to taste food for 39 days and I finally figured that it was time to get it checked out. As I sat in the waiting room, there was a lot of sniffling, coughing, runny eyes and Kleenex. None of us were well; all of us were in need. We needed whatever the doctor could give.

The week after OBL was assassinated, the pastor at the church I am a part of spoke about how uneasy he felt with the celebrations that were taking place in the streets and the way facebook lit up with 'christians' encouraging OBL to enjoy hell, rotting and forever torment. His comments were not political. They were not about whether or not he personally believed bin Laden should have been killed or how he personally felt about bin Laden's meeting with death. His comments were in the context of his teaching about how those who are citizens of God's kingdom should be shaped by kingdom of heaven values and how we must fight against being shaped by our cultures values. He spoke about living in the tension of kingdom realities. He encouraged those who follow Jesus to be challenged by Jesus' teaching on loving our enemies, praying for them and blessing them as opposed to dancing in celebration that they may spend forever apart from the love and mercy, grace and beauty of the same Jesus who willingly gives those things to us, though we do not deserve them either.

Within days, people were leaving the church. Some even said that church is no place to be talking about that kind of stuff.

Fast forward 5 weeks in this same church. It was a pretty cool day as close to 40 people were being baptized, choosing to align their lives with God's kingdom. I walked up to one woman and asked her why she was being baptized. She said that she'd lived a horrible, horrific life and she didn't want that life anymore. She told me that she wanted a new life - one where she follows Jesus. She said that she found hope for this type of life in this particular church.

Her response was sobering and exhilarating. In the same month, I saw people who have it all figured out and are convinced that Jesus' love has limits, choose to walk away from the family, while others whose lives are a wreck choose to believe that maybe, just maybe, Jesus' love has no limits, so they walk into the family.

I got to thinking about the kind of church I want to be a part of. It's kind of crazy and it's pretty messy, but it seems right. It's the kind of church that stumbles and bumbles its way through life and to Jesus. It's the kind of church where people who live really crappy lives can find Jesus and experience new life. It's a group of complete letdowns who have been made beautiful by the love and mercy and grace of Jesus. Everyone there has a story; everyone has wounds, has bled and has scars. It's a place where you can belong before you believe. It's a family of ragtag screw-ups that have a few things in common. Our desire to know Jesus. To be like Jesus. And to see heaven invade earth in our everyday, ordinary lives. We also share a common desire to be challenged and changed.

I'm convinced that people like this don't eventually leave churches because the pastor (or anyone else) encourages them towards love or forgiveness or mercy or grace or beauty or kindness. I'm convinced that the people who are so acutely aware of their need for God are actually the ones who have the biggest hearts for change and the most outstretched arms to anyone else who wants in on it.

The church that I want to be a part of is a lot like the waiting room at my doctor's office. It's full of people who must see the doctor because if they don't their day or week or month or life will be miserable. And once we've seen the doctor and healing has come our way, we still walk with a limp, but our limp is our best friend, because our limp is our constant reminder that there was a time when we couldn't walk at all. It keeps us humble. It keeps us grounded. It keeps us real. It allows us to love as we live in the tension between kingdom realities.

That woman's story was one of many like it that I heard that weekend, which leads me to believe that the congregation that I am a part of is becoming one that I think Jesus and his friends would be welcome at. I pray that we continue to move in that direction. I pray that I continue to move in that direction. I pray that all of God's beautiful church would move in this direction.
"We are a beautiful let down,
Painfully uncool,
The church of the dropouts
The losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools
Oh what a beautiful letdown"
                                                     Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot

Friday, June 17, 2011

Theological Humility

Last week, a friend said to me,
"...theological humility is what allows God to challenge and change us."
It immediately dawned on me....this is probably why I didn't change for years. Because a person who already knows everything doesn't need to change and I knew it all. And then this interesting thing called life happened to me. One of the greatest movements in my life over the last 6 years has been the journey towards admitting and being okay with the fact that I might be wrong about certain things and that there are a whole lot of things that I just don't know.

I was once the King of Opinions. I had opinions about things that I was well versed in. I had opinions about things I had no idea about. If we were talking about it, I had an opinion and my opinion was the right one. Period. My opinions didn't stop with thoughts on parenting or marriage or the cats vs. dogs debate. My opinions ran in all directions including theological issues about why God does what he does, who's in and who's out in God's economy, why my way was right and everyone else's way was very wrong and on and on.

Arrogant people can be such asses. So, if you caught the arrogant ass version of me along the way, I am truly sorry.

I am still a work in progress, but I am happy to say that today, things are a little bit different thanks to a number of people who chose to love me through my arrogance. Along the way, I have had good friends tell me that they didn't like me because I knew it all. Co-workers have expressed how much of a delight I was not to work with because of my opinions and ability to trump all others thoughts and ideas with my self perceived better thoughts and ideas. And here I was thinking that I was God's great gift to my little universe. At least, that was my opinion.

Lately, I have been challenged on some of my previous dogmatic stances when it comes to life and theology.

Questions like:

What if people in the far reaching places of the planet never know the person of Jesus before they die nor had the opportunity to hear about the redemptive, restorative plan of this resurrected Jesus?

Why are some people born with passion for the opposite sex while others are born with passion for the same sex? If God controls these things, but then says that one should not have relations with the same sex, doesn't this make God kind of cruel?

Does God actually control all things?

Does God really think that whole 'love your enemies and literally pray for them' thing is going to work?

If God is so good, then why do babies die in their mother's wombs sometimes?

I could list hundreds of these types of questions.

Recently, I was reading my boys a story out of the book of Genesis. We read about a time in which there was famine in the land of Egypt for 7 years for lack of rain and many people were without food. My 6 year old son asked me,

"Dad, people had no food to eat because there was no rain?"

"Yes, son."

"But doesn't God make the rain?"

"Yes, son."

"So, if God loves everybody, then why didn't God just make rain so people could have food and not go hungry?"

Now, here's the deal. Theologically, I think there is an answer to this question and the other questions posed above. Now, for those of you who are concerned at this point, let me reassure you - I believe that Jesus is God's son. I believe that he came to the planet to crush sin, death, evil, tyranny and oppression through dying and ultimately coming back to life. I believe that Jesus is the way to God and restored life. Beyond this, there is a whole lot that I'm just not sure of.

These days, I don't think that theology is enough. Because theology misses the most important part of a person. Theology misses the heart. Theology hits us square in the cranium and for the most part, it stays right there. I could have loaded up my son with all kinds of theological answers, but let's face it - theology will never satisfy the heart of a 6 year old (or 56 year old) who is struggling with why a loving God would intentionally withhold waters from the sky to cause a famine in which people die for lack of food. How do we explain this to our boys who know their sister - whom currently resides in Ethiopia - is in an orphanage with barely enough food to survive the night?

How do we answer that question? Can we answer that question? Should we answer that question?

Or is it okay to let some questions, be just that? Questions. Mysteries. Spaces of tension.

So, how did our conversation end?

"So, Dad, if God loves everybody, then why didn't God just make rain so people could have food and not go hungry?"

"I don't know, son. But I do know that Jesus promises us that no matter what happens to us in life, he will be with us. We might not always feel it or even think it, but I can promise you that Jesus loves us and will be with us through all of it."

And when he gets a little older, I'll give him a little more. At least the little more that I might know. But one thing is for sure....I don't ever want to give him or anyone else just something to satisfy the head. I want to be a person who engages hearts. But in order to be that person, I think we have to first, have our hearts engaged.

How about you? What has your experience been with engaging God with your head vs. your heart?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Waiting for Zoe

So, it turns out that the adoption process can be very fun and exciting and at times discouraging and drawn out. It's been fifteen months since we made our decision to pursue adoption and applied with America World Adoption Agency (AWAA). We spent five months pulling together all of our paperwork, meeting with our social worker and getting all of our ducks in a row. In September 2010 we mailed our dossier to Ethiopia and began the process of waiting. Eight months later, we are still waiting and at present, there does not seem to be an end in sight. 

For those who are interested in keeping up with our adoption journey on a regular basis, you can follow us over at our adoption blog here.

These days we have started a new tradition to help us keep our heads up during the waiting. Our dossier went to Ethiopia on the 24th of September, so we have declared the 24th of each month Zoe Moon day. On Zoe Moon day we take the boys out and we celebrate with ice cream. It has turned into a much anticipated family night and Kristy and I look forward to it just as much as the boys. 

So, until we are able to actually meet our Zoe we will continue to wait and while we wait, we will continue celebrate her arrival with ice cream.

And for all of you dads who already hold your're doing a good work that matters greatly. Keep up the good work and don't forget to spend some time eating ice cream with your daughter. Here's a little John Mayer for you.

John Mayer - Daughters (Official Music Video). Watch more top selected videos about: John Mayer

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Your Turn

Now that summer is here, I thought it would be cool to go back and look at your favorite blog post that you wrote this spring.

If you're a blogger, leave a comment with a link to your favorite blog post that you wrote in March, April or May. (If you're not a blogger, leave a comment with a link to a favorite post that you read on someone else's blog over these last 3 months.)

I'm looking forward to reading your favorites!