Category Archives: church

the Anxious Christian

I was eager to read “the Anxious Christian” by Rhett Smith. I’ve heard him speak live and have read many of his blog posts. I think his has a lot of important and helpful things to say about faith and living whole and healthy lives – spiritually, emotionally, and physically. And beside, with Jon Acuff writing the forward you know that there had to be some witty stuff that you could use in your next blog or sermon!

I also wanted to learn more about the intersection of anxiety and faith. Like you, I have a personal reason to want to learn more about how to nurture and respond to anxious people. Much of what Rhett had to say was helpful in that regard. He proposed a new way of looking at anxiety. Rather than the all-too-familiar response of well-meaning Christians that anxiety is a sign of spiritual immaturity, Rhett suggests that God may use anxiety to cause us to trust him more! His development of this concept alone is worth getting your hands on this book.

There are some pretty good discussion questions at the end of each chapter that can guide the reader into taking some positive steps toward implementing helpful habits and actions in their lives. They could also be beneficial to a family our group that read the book together. A few times I felt that the material got a little too clinical but overall it was very accessible and practical.

Smith focuses on anxiety that rises up from a point of embarrassment about an inability to perform or function at a certain level. (“I can’t do that! I’ll fail!” He uses his personal experience of stuttering as an example.) That is a very common point of origin but I was hoping to see something about anxiety that rises from a point of fear that something is going to go wrong that is completely out the control of the individual. (“What if something bad happens?”) I wanted to know how I can encourage that person and help give them hope.

I would recommend “the Anxious Christian” for most people. You may be a teacher, a church staff member, or the spouse or parent or friend of an anxious person. Or you may be that anxious person, yourself. “the Anxious Christian” is worth the read. I found his approach and advice to be very thoughtful, balanced, and practical – something that is not easy to do with this subject.

Chazown

Craig Groeschel defines “Chazown” as: “dream” or “revelation” or “vision.” He asserts that we all need vision to  do what God has created us to do. He identifies four things that vision brings to our lives: focus, endurance, peace, and passion (p.12). Beginning with the end in mind, Groeschel takes the reader on a journey of discovering their personal Chazown.

Part field guide, part workbook, Chazown is a practical manual for developing and identifying God’s vision for your life. Along the way you will do some writing as you wrestle with a variety of clarifying exercises the author presents. As you walk through these 76 short chapters you will refer back  to those exercises and further clarify and modify them.

At about the half-way point of the book Groeschel identifies five spokes of your personal Chazown as:

1. Your relationship with God

2. Your relationship with people

3. Your financial health

4. Your physical health

5. Your life’s work

A brief self-inventory on page 106 helps you consider one of two options. You can either focus on one of the five spokes and develop an action plan to address it or you can develop action plans on all five spokes. A section is devoted to each spoke. If you are going to just look at one at a time then this is where you skip ahead to that specific section. (You can always come back to the other sections!)

I believe that most people will find Chazown to be helpful – especially if they feel that something is missing in their lives and they are looking for direction and meaning. This is not a book that you just read and then set aside. There is a fair amount of work that one must do to fully benefit from it. There are tons of additional resources located at http://www.chazown.com that will help you. You might find the 4-session group guideline included in the back of the book to be the best way for you to process what you’ve read. But whether you make this journey alone or with others, Chazown will help you bring clarity and direction to your life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Why Didn’t You Come Sooner?

“Why Didn’t You Come Sooner?” is a collection of short stories taken from the memoirs of Richard Varberg – a long-time missionary to the Philippians with Converge Worldwide (BGC). Varberg served with distinction as an entrepreneurial missionary in the island nation of the Philippines. He and his wife headed off in 1958 with their infant son and raised a family in challenging circumstances. They left a significant legacy of a growing network of churches and second and third generation missionary family members.

It is difficult to imagine or appreciate the depth of the obstacles and challenges that they faced. Operating in a fair level of isolation it seems that they frequently had to improvise and figure things out for themselves. There certainly were no training manuals to cover the variety of situations they encountered. Drawing from his experience growing up on an Iowa farm, Varberg functioned as a mechanic, architect, and construction foreman. They were skills that served him well.

If there is one point of critique that I would raise it is the frequency in this volume of stories of conflict with Roman Catholic missionaries and priests. At times the stories seem uncomfortably reminiscent of a time when evangelical christians and catholics often found themselves at odds. There is no doubt that there was unecessary conflict and resistance exercised by catholic leaders in the establishment of a community cemetery (pp. 61-83). Even legal action was threatened and carried out against Varberg. While significant theological differences still exist today, followers of Christ can be found in both camps and many evangelicals and catholics often work together in areas where agreement exists. These stories could have been even more powerful in their impact without the distraction of an anti-catholic theme running through many of them.

“Why Didn’t You Come Sooner?” is a historical snapshot of mission work in the Philippines in the 1950’s through 1990’s. It is filled with fascinating stories of God’s grace and faithfulness in difficult – and even life-threatening – circumstances. We should be grateful to the Varberg’s and hundreds of others who served (and are serving) so faithfully to bring the Gospel to communities around the world.

“Why Didn’t You Come Sooner?” is published by the William Carey Library and is available at Amazon.

The Gospel of Yes

Mike Glenn makes a significant contribution toward bringing clarity back to a simple Gospel message that has been buried by confusion and clutter in recent decades. How many of us have come to understand the Gospel as “the Gospel plus?” Plus a dress code, plus a list of do’s and don’ts, plus a certain translation of the Bible. Enough already!

Glenn begins our journey toward a simpler Gospel with words like these found on p. 12:

“When you accept the “yes” of Christ’s redemptive grace and respond with the “yes” of faith, everything finds its rightful place. Your life finds order, meaning, and the right fit in your community. Finally you can relax in who God created you to be. If a decision before you doesn’t serve your “yes” in Christ, then the response is ‘no.'”

A few pages later Glenn adds: “”Saying ‘yes’ allows you to focus on what matters.” (p. 17)

Somewhere along the way we began defining God’s love and grace and the heart of the Gospel in negative terms. Certainly God is against some things. The same things we are all against. Things like stealing, lying, murder, adultery, etc. Those are terribly destructive behaviors that God (and all of us) should be against. But  this fascination with defining the Gospel in negative terms has been destructive, too.

“For far too many of us, Christianity has been narrowed down to sin management. Sure, we all want to get to heaven. But under the sin-management paradigm, getting to heaven is no longer about Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and his invitation to follow him in new life. The focus on sin makes getting to heaven a matter of keeping score.” (p. 26)

Hang around church for more than just a few years and you will know all about keeping score. I’ve had people hand me a bulletin from the church they visited while they were on vacation so that I would know that they went to church. Have to keep that perfect attendance streak intact! We are consumed with avoiding wrong behavior and we excel at letting people know what we are against!

“Simply not doing wrong isn’t enough. Being against sin isn’t the same as being for Christ.” (p. 27)

But ask the typical co-worker, neighbor, or unchurched relative to describe the Christians they know and odds are that they will begin with a list of things they think that Christians are against: drinking, dancing, same-sex marriage, movies, public schools, voting democrat!

“We have concluded that avoiding hell is more important that following Christ in any practical, daily, risky way. So we shut ourselves off from the world and the God who created it. This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is such a shock to many Christians. We assumed Jesus would come to earth and say “no.” We never expect him to preach “yes.” But his message should not come as a surprise. He came, he said, to preach the message of his Father, and his Father has been saying “yes” all along. The champions of our faith – Abraham, David, Mary, and all the rest – are simply those who heard and believed the “yes” of God in Jesus. They heard the same “yes” that God spoke to call creation itself to life.

And we are invited to hear that same “yes” today.” (p. 34)

Glenn takes these basic concepts and applies them in various ways. He addresses the “yes” in creation, in the cross, and in the resurrection. He challenges his readers to consider the “yes” of forgiveness, of authentic relationships, of simplicity, and more.  If reading these excerpts from “The Gospel of Yes” have grabbed your attention then I would encourage you to read the rest of the book. There’s a simple discussion guide included in the back of the book that covers the 15 chapters in 7 sessions. “The Gospel of Yes” could be read individually, used in a small group, or with your church staff or leadership group. It is a book that should be read by all those who seek to follow Jesus and those who have grown weary of keeping score.

Functionally Amish

I think we will all eventually become functionally Amish.

You know who the Amish are. They are a Christian sect found mostly in Pennsylvannia. They may be best known for rejecting modern conveniences and living a simple lifestyle that seems to be frozen in the 1850’s. Those modern conveniences include homes with utilities like running water and electricity, and gas-powered engines that run things like cars, tractors, and Harleys! Apparently, banks require them to keep the electricity hooked up to the house until the mortgage is paid off. At that time the homeowner removes the service to the house. I have to agree with the Amish here – mortgages are not a modern convenience!


So I wonder if we don’t all become Amish at some point – rejecting modern conveniences for the lifestyle of a bygone era? We see it in people who resist or flat-out reject technology. No cell phone. No email. No computer. Landline with an answering machine. Sometimes it pops up in fashion. Double-pleated cuffed pants. “Mom” jeans (especially on men!). Leather fringe jackets.Christians are really good at becoming functionally Amish. Locking into the hymns from the 40’s and 50’s (that’s 1840’s and 50’s!) or the Gaither music of the 60’s and 70’s. We insist that the bible translation that we grew up with is the best. And we are experts at resisting change of any kind.

But Christians aren’t the only people that become functionally Amish. We’re all good at it. We love the familiar and routine. It gives us a certain sense of comfort and security. Eventually we will all watch the History Channel, Turner Classic Movies, and re-runs of Gunsmoke. (Note: since the Amish don’t use electricity they certainly don’t watch old movies.)

The point is eventually most of us will pick a seemingly random point in history and freeze-frame our life in that era. Ten years from now I’ll be easy to spot. I’ll be that balding 65 yr old wearing Tom’s, a David Crowder t-shirt, and black skinny jeans with an iPhone in the front pocket! Which era will you choose to spend the rest of your life in?

The COACH Model – A Discipleship Tool

In a previous post I wrote about the start of my journey into coaching. In that post I reviewed “Coaching 101” from CoachNet. As I talked with people about coaching I was referred by David DeVries to CRM and their COACH Model. What I have found is an organization and system that appears to be exactly what I am looking for! One strength is that they offer a local training that is longer (5 days instead of 2) for half the price! The process could move me toward certification within a year.

The COACH Model is based on this definition of coaching: Coaching is an intentional conversation that empowers a person or group to fully live out God’s calling. (p. 28)

Coaching is so much more than a management fad or trend. It guides a person along a path of self-discovery to take specific steps toward effectively achieving their goals. It’s not teaching, instructing, or even nudging people toward a predetermined outcome. Coaching is completely centered on the coachee (the one being coached) and not on the background or expertise of the coach. I plan to use coaching as a discipleship tool to help people go deeper in their relationship with Jesus and to equip ministry leaders become more effective in their ministries.

The COACH Model by Keith Webb lays out an intuitive coaching process from Connect (C) to Highlights (H). The rest of the process is Outcome (O), Awareness (A), and Course (C). Here’s a partial description of each from pp 43-44:

C is for Connect – First, connecting to the person you are talky with to build rapport and trust; and second, following-up on action steps from your previous coaching conversation.

O is for outcome – Outcome is the intended result the coachee would like to achieve during the conversation.

A is for awareness – Awareness is a reflective dialogue intended to produce discoveries, insights, and increased perspective for the coachee.

C is for course – Course puts feet to insights and discoveries by helping the coachee create action steps.

H is for highlights – Highlights focus on reviewing the parts of the conversation that the coach found most meaningful.

Throughout the book Webb fully develops each of the five components of the COACH Model with conversational examples, sample questions, and plenty of instruction.

As I read through The COACH Model I found stuff that I can put to immediate use with the guys I am coaching. I highlighted enough text that I quickly realized that this would be a book that I would want to read more than once. It is very content-rich and I want to make sure that I glean as much as I can from it in order to provide meaningful coaching conversations with those I coach.

If you have interest in developing your coaching skills, The COACH Model by Keith Webb is a great tool to help you achieve that goal. If you are a second chair leader I would strongly encourage you to look into coaching as an important tool for your toolbox. I believe that coaching will help me become a better men’s ministry leader and will be a valuable tool for many years in a variety of life and ministry applications.

Man Alive!

Are you a mentor? Are you a men’s small group leader? Do you disciple men? Here’s a really good book to check out if you lead or are involved in ministry to men. Patrick Morely has been producing resources for men and men’s ministries for years. This latest book from Morley may be his best to date.

In eight chapters and just 184 pages Morley lays out a model for an 8-week study – ideally with a small group of men. In chapters2-8 he zooms in on a separate “primal need” that I think most men will identify with:

2- To feel like I don’t have to go through life alone.

3 – To believe – really believe-that God knows. loves. and cares about me personally.

4-To believe that my life has a purpose – that my life is not random.

5-To break free from the destructive behaviors that keep dragging me down.

6-To satisfy my soul’s thirst for transience, awe, and communion.

7- To love and be loved without reservation.

8-To make a contribution and leave the world a better place.

Each chapter includes a few questions for reflection and discussion.

I personally found chapter 8 – “How A Man Makes His Mark” – to be interesting and helpful. Morley describes the final ‘primal need’ like this:

“Every man feels a deep need to make a difference, to make his life count, and to leave the world a better place. Yet in the crush of daily duties, this powerful need often gets misdirected or ignored.” (p. 164.)

Morely adds this observation:

“I’d say that 90% of Christian men don’t go much further than professing faith. They’re saved but stuck – inside the stadium but not in the game. Their lives seem pointless, and they hate it.” (p. 165)

I’ve seen this so many times. Men going through the motions of being a Christian. They go to church most Sundays but don’t become engaged in the worship or the message. They don’t sing and barely remember a single point of the message by the time they pull out of the parking lot. They’re not in a small group and they don’t have any real friends in the church. They attempt to find meaning and significance in their work, their hobbies, or through their favorite professional sports team.

At the age of 55 I look ahead to the next 10-12 years of full-time ministry. I’m not content to go through the motions of life and ministry for those years. I want desperately to make a difference for the Kingdom. I want to see men transformed by the Gospel so that their lives have meaning and significance. I want to see men become the men they really want to be – better husbands, better dads, better men.  That’s why I lead 3 separate men’s groups, am coaching 3 men, and am working to develop a full-throttle men’s ministry team. I believe that introducing me to “Man Alive” will help me accomplish those goals.

Check out the Man Alive website for more resources.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”