Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review of Framing Faith by Matt Knisley

Framing Faith
Matt Knisley
ISBN 978-0-8499-2187-2
W an imprint of Thomas Nelson
Reviewed by Clint Walker

When I met my wife she would go out for little personal retreats and take pictures. You could tell it was a deeply meaningful experience for her. I figured it was simply a time when she could slow down, be in the moment, and clear the distractions from her mind and heart. And, I am sure it did offer that kind of respite.

In his new book Framing Faith, Mat Knisley takes us deeper into the spiritual lessons that photography can teach us. As an accomplished, professional photographer Knisley uses the metaphor of photography to speak about the spiritual journey. In the process, he also describes at times how the process of taking a picture can be a illumining and spiritual experience. Particularly helpful was Knisley's description of the pace of taking pictures and telling stories, and how both require us to slow down, be reflective, find what speaks to us, and find meaning.

I plan on putting this book on my wife's bookshelf, and letter her read it. And then if she actually does open the book (she might not working full-time and raising a toddler and a pre-schooler), I will be eager to hear how it speaks to her heart.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review of Fields of Gold by Andy Stanley

Fields of God
by Andy Stanley
ISBN 0-8423-8540-1
Reviewed by Clint Walker

One of the highlights of my ministry this year is the development of our stewardship team. Each member of the team has been working their way through a book, and then sharing some of their insights with the rest of the team.

I know Andy Stanley to be a great communicator. I have read several of his books on leadership and vision. Nevertheless, as I read through Fields of Gold I was impressed by the book. Stanley makes a clear case for giving to one's church, as well as being generous as a principle.

In Fields of Gold, Stanley puts a strong emphasis on sowing and reaping, but he does not do this in a creepy, televangelist-like way. He tells the story of a farmer in the middle of the dust bowl who is considering whether to put seed in the ground. Fear that he will lose everything grips him. What will he do?

From that point Stanley launches into a case for being generous with what the Lord has given us. He addresses many of the fears that govern our lives when it comes to money. He also gives helpful step by step instructions in coming up with a giving plan and living our lives with generosity.

For a pastor like me, there are several sermon illustrations in this book, as well as few outlines for teaching on stewardship in a message or a Sunday School class.

I urge anyone who is interested in understanding or communicating about the importance of stewardship and generosity to pick up this fine book.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Book Review of Revangelical by Lance Ford

Revangelical: Becoming the Good News People We're Meant to Be
by Lance Ford
ISBN 978-1-4143-9015-4
Tyndale Momentum
Reviewed by Clint Walker

The contemporary evangelical movement has a unique history and place in American culture and in Christian circles globally. Evangelicalism was born as a middle way between the classically liberal theology of the early 20th century and grass-roots theological movement that responded to it called fundamentalism.

Today evangelicalism is some sort of an identity crisis. At times, the movement has seemed to be captive to political parties, and economic interests. Some folks that should be more accurately labeled as fundamentalist have tried to narrow the understanding of what they thing an evangelical should be-This is especially true in regard to issues such as the creation-evolution debate and women in leadership. At the same time, there are a number of folks that have evangelical sensibilities that have more progressive views on theology and ethics than what is traditionally acceptable in that movement.

Stepping into all of this is Lance Ford, an evangelical Christian who has concerns about the evangelical movement. Ford has less concerns with the hot button issues that the evangelical movement often discusses. Instead, Ford's concerns are more with the heart of evangelicalism. Ford puts it this way, "for many evangelicals, the gospel has been shriveled and shrunken to the point that we have made the great Good News small" (p. 18). His solution is to re-evangelize the evangelical church so that it can be "evangelized all over again by the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven--the gospel that Jesus preached and practiced" (p. 14).

From this point on, Ford really runs a diagnostic study on evangelicalism. Getting under the hood of evangelicalism, Revangelical examines the movement from a number angles. The book urges evangelicals to rediscover their faith as good news for themselves and the world. It both challenges evangelicals to let go of some unhealthy attitudes and habits, and to recommit to having some healthy values that the movement has lost in recent decades. Ford does a wonderful job of making his case with passion and clarity.

I have been in conversation with Lance about his book briefly. I am sympathetic with much of what he has to say. I too grew up in fundamental and evangelical circles. I have great affinity for the movement's commitment to the authority of Scripture and the emphasis on essential value of having personal ownership of one's faith. Unlike Lance and other evangelical leaders, I don't see the need to cling to and salvage the label "evangelical". And, although I would think the term evangelical would be an accurate description of my faith commitments, I have no emotional or personal need to connect to or salvage the "evangelical" movement. I have my work cut out for me in simply seeking to be a Christ-follower.

Having said that, I think this book will be helpful for folks that are committed to being Bible-believing Christians, and yet feel there is something amiss with American Christianity. These folks will sense in Lance that there are others that feel they way they do, and they will in turn be inspired to be a different voice in evangelical circles. A voice that offers something positive and life-changing instead of simply angry and critical. A voice that offers life change instead of political agendas. Those kinds of voices are always welcome, in my opinion.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bibliography of Stewardship Resources for Churches on my Shelf

My current church is the first church I have had a significant role in that had a Stewardship campaign, and that thought about having a stewardship plan. Most of the churches I have served have had some sort of Stewardship Team, but that team basically managed money. It did not seek to set a vision, have a plan, or address issues.

When we were first discussing such matters as church, I was asked about what training I had about such matters. What were the trade magazines saying? What conferences have I went to on such matters. Well, I had attended a few workshops on best practices for collection and disbursement of funds, and had a few discussions, and some mentoring on the issue. I knew of no workshops on the issue, and knew of no big programs that get old, declining mainline churches quick infusions of cash. So I was stumped and frustrated. So I began to learn about stewardship.

Since that point, I have done a little study, and learned more about church finance. One thing that one begins to learn rather quickly, however, is that across denominations there are different cultures of giving. In my experience in different denominations, Methodists like getting a high overhead going back to the denomination, and then they want you to give more to missions. The Presbyterians in Hot Springs are well funded, but like to hoard their money in endowments. Baptists in each of my churches feel good if they can make budget and give 10 percent to missions related activities, including denominational support.

Much of the literature I have comes from Methodism, which challenges a lot of my Baptist thinking. Especially different in Methodist life is the prominent role of the pastor in being aware of individual giving, and tracking issues in that regard.

Recently, a ministry colleague asked what resources people were using in stewardship. Here are the ones that are on my shelf. No reviews. Just a bibliography.

Here are a few of the resources I have on church stewardship

Robert Schnase--Practicing Extravagant Generosity, The Five Practices of Fruitful Living, The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (the advantage of this stuff is that there is so much in the way of resources to support the program and philosophy)

Adam Hamilton: Enough--Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity

J. Clif Christopher--Not Your Parents Offering Plate, Whose Offering Plate is It?

Christian Smith et. al--Passing the Plate: Why Americans Don't Give Away More Money

Kelly Kapic and Justin Borger--God So Loved, He Gave

The Rev. Charles Cloughen Jr.--One Minute Stewardship Sermons

Randy Alcorn--The Treasure Principle

Andy Stanley--Fields of Gold

Kristine Miller and Scott McKenzie--Bounty: Ten Ways to Increase Giving

Margaret Marcuson--Money and Your Minstry

Brad Formsma-- I Like Giving

I have also found being involved in non-profits to be helpful. For instance, seeing the way the United Way approached fundraising I thought was insightful and helpful in many ways.

What resources have you found?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Book Review of The Missional Quest by Lance Ford & Brad Brisco

The Missional Quest: Becoming a Church of the Long Run
by Lance Ford and Brad Brisco
ISBN 978-0-8308-4105-9
IVP Praxis
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I have been reading about and discussing ideas about what it means to be "missional" for years. Our church was even rewarded for being externally focused and reaching our community through going out and connecting with the people, civic organizations, and government we worked with by our Regional Leadership. Missional Leadership gets me excited about being a part of the church, and a part of the vision Jesus had for his kingdom (as opposed to mine or our kingdom).

Unfortunately, to be honest, much like terms such as emergent and community, I think the term is quickly bordering on being overused in church circles. I remember my denomination (ABC/USA) doing this big nationwide tour from my denominational headquarters to teach us what it meant to be missional. What we learned is that they liked missional slogans and lingo, but they really did not know that much about what the "missional church" conversation was all about. Instead they were seeking to re-brand the denomination a little to get more money for traditional missions and the United Mission funds of the denomination while really changing nothing about how they see and do church. My experience was much the same with other denominations I deal with these days in the federated church I serve.

Don't let the overuse of the missional nomenclature keep you from exploring what people who are really practicing and living missional church life have to say. Lance Ford and Brad Brisco are leaders in what the "missional church" conversation is really all about. And the Missional Quest is a fantastic book that balances church vision and philosophy with clear practical steps to grow one's church from a self-serving consumer business model to truly living the kingdom of God in their community, neighborhood, and world.

The Missional Quest is very much a how-to book, but a how-to book that is more descriptive than prescriptive. Early on in the book, it takes on the importance of spiritual formation in the missional church. After all, if we are going to bring Jesus into the world, it kind of helps to know him and be connected with him intimately.For this reason, rhythms of spiritual development and mission, outreach, and connecting with our communities need to be paired.

It also takes on the importance of equipping people for ministry, of ministering to people's real tangible needs, and of really connecting with people where they are at, out in the world, and continuing to bring the church to the world instead of expecting the world to come to the church.

I enjoyed the discussion of place in relationship to missional living. Included in the discussion of place are missional practices that help grow us and help us at the same time bring Christ to others. The small group material was very helpful as well.

Much of what I have read in missional church conversations as well as similar outreach efforts focus on church planters. This book, although supportive of church planting, believes that by God's grace it is possible to transition churches to a missional focus. That was very encouraging to me.

I look forward to reading more books by the rest of the Forge Ministries folks, as well as these two specifically.

Book Review of the Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears
by Mark Batterson
ISBN 978-0-310-33073-8
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Each year our D.S. gifts each of the ministers under his supervision with a book to think about and read for the upcoming year. This was the book we received a couple of years ago. I am just now getting it finished.

The guiding story that launches this book comes from the Hebrew book "The Book of Legends". It is about a man that lived a century before Jesus named Honi, and Honi  prayed boldly enough that God answered his prayer and ended a drought that afflicted the whole nation of Israel. Part of what he did was to draw a circle, and tell God he was not going to leave the circle he drew until God brought the land rain. And, as Honi's prayer was answered, people were moved to renew their faith and to understand the true power of bold, big prayers.

Batterson then draws from Honi, from Scripture, and from his own personal experience to describe for people the power and importance of intercessory and petitionary prayer. There are many helpful slogans and prayer practices that Batterson shares, such as "praying through" instead of just "praying to", praying for big things,  making your prayers specific, keeping a prayer journal, establishing a regular prayer habits, about having goals brought to the Lord in prayer and so on.

For people who like specifics, this book has plenty, both from Batterson and his friends in his church and around the world. The Circle Maker is nothing if not practical.

My biggest challenge in reading this book is that many of the examples, instead of changed lives, had to do with wealth, personal achievement, and real estate purchases. And, while that is more helpful than hearing about biological prayer requests all of the time, I also would like to hear more about how prayer changes lives and not just bank accounts.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Book Review of Frameworks by Eric Larson

Frameworks: How to Navigate the New Testament
by Eric Larson
ISBN 978-0-615-63312-1
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Frameworks is a nice book. It feels nice when the reader holds it. It has beautiful pictures, and it has a nice cover. It also has a nice concept. Larson goes book by book through the New Testament, and really digs into the main themes and the point of each book of the New Testament. The visual aids are really well done, as well as some of the questions that lead the reader to go deeper in their knowledge of the Bible.

The perplexing thing about Frameworks is that it does not fit easily into a certain mold or type of book for a certain type of reader. The way the book is organized and put together, it could almost be a coffee table book--yet in many ways it is too deep to be just that. It would also be an excellent text for a Bible survey class in a church, although in my church it would be much too spendy for that kind of thing. When I will probably use this is when I am in a mentoring relationship where I am trying to help someone get a better biblical foundation. Larson does a great job of helping the reader go deeper, without overwhelming them. And the visual presentation will make it less intimidating for people do not feel comfortable with a different kind of book.

Book Review of Get Your Teenager Talking by Jonathan McKee

Get Your Teenager Talking: Everything You Need to Spark Meaningful Conversations
by Jonathan McKee
ISBN 978-0-7642-1185-0
Bethany House
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This book is a good book with a relatively simple idea. In Get Your Teenager Talking Jonathan McKee has offered a very practical discussion guide to get adults visiting with young people.

The guide begins with some general tips about starting conversations with teenagers. I don't think it is awful hard, but I am aware than many people do.

Then there are 180 conversation starters. These conversation starters begin with an open question designed to get conversation and dialogue started. Most of the questions are pretty interesting, and would even be good questions to ask at a dinner with friends.
In each conversation the reader is also given an insight to guide their listening with each conversation. After that, there are also some follow up questions, as well as as some more questions that push the conversation to a deeper and more personal and intimate level.

I would think this book would be an excellent resource in a number of settings. It might be helpful in a family devotion time with teenagers. It might also be very helpful in a small group, or as an icebreaker conversation in a fairly inactive youth group. However, I think its original design is just to get parents and kids talking with each other about issues and situations that matter in their lives. I will both keep this book and share it with others. Not very many books are quite so practical.

Monday Morning Quarterback: 8.3.14

6:50am  Wake up. Stayed up later after going to watch "Tammy" with my wife the night before. Last week increased our movie date nights by double for the year, since we usually only do that around our anniversary.

7:00am  Help get the kids breakfast started.

7:10am Shower time. Shaved on Friday, so need this Sunday. Yipee

7:30am Iron clothes, get dressed etc. What? No shirts ripping? No spills? No struggle to find my stuff? This day is going well!

8:00 Grab a G2 and head out the door. Get to the church. Unlock the back door. Check the church parking situation with the motorcycle fiesta/travelling wall. Everything seems to look good. Walk in the church and see that Tracy has delivered on the sign for the Under Construction theme. I put the sign in front of the pulpit. Rock on!

8:10 Settle in. Pray. Review message. Plan children's message. Realize I am going to have to run home to pick up a plant.
8:40 Run home and pick up a plant.

8:45 Begin to observe who is coming to church. Each week I send out postcards to people I see that have been gone. This ministry seems to have shown fruit, as I see several folks coming in that I had sent cards to because they had been missed in worship.I hear people questioning the appearance of the sanctuary as they walk in. This is what I want. To grab people's attention and shake them up a little bit. Caution tape is hung on the pillars. Road Work Ahead Signs and under construction signs around the church. A big ROAD WORK AHEAD construction sign leaning on the pulpit. And now a flower. People start asking, what does a flower have to do with all of this? PERFECT.

9:00 Start out worship.

9:10 First hymn sounds ok, but not great. Such is the case when it is a new hymn with an old tune. I am picking mostly Psalms. Again, as we face the under construction theme, I want people to try some different things.

9:20 Prayer time is fairly brief. Thank God. Sometimes there are folks in our church that have prayer request tirets, spouting requests as nervous ticks from out of nowhere. It makes the service drag on

9:30 Get into the pulpit. I preach with a limited outline. I am excited about the UNDER CONSTRUCTION SERIES, and do well. People seem to connect with my preaching. I get good non verbal feedback. I am less precise, there are more filler words, but I am also less note bound.

9:52 I finish sermon and feel good. Now it is a race to see if we can get done in an hour

9:59 Closing hymn and benediction are all that is left. Then, from out of nowhere another prayer request is shared by someone with prayer terretts about praying for first responders during rally week. I handle that request while deftly moving us to the sending song. Well played on my part I thought

10:02 Service is finished. Two minutes long. People can live with that, although there are some rushing out the door during the final hymn.

10:15 Visit with people for a while

11:15 Drop in on the end of the missions meeting. Some folks seem a little grumpy. Wonder why,

11:30 Everyone leaves, I lock up.

11:45 I get home

12:12 I help with lunch. Then get distracted while Jen finishes up what I start.

1:00  Put kids to bed. I do powerpoint for evening

2:30 Powerpoint finished

2:45 Girls get up from naps

3:15 Run to store with family

3:30 Let kids play while I read and visit with Jen and watch kids. The way Sunday afternoons in the summer are supposed to be. Lots of laughs, a few cries, and a peaceful hour or so.

5:00 Go back to work to prep for the evening service

5:15 Get evening powerpoint on flash drive

5:35  Finish setting up worship space for evening.

5:45 Visit with folks. Remember to go get pens

6:00 Begin worship. I preach the same service as the morning

7:30 Worship ends

7:45 Talk with gentleman who is a leader in the recovery movement in our town that comes to our evening service. Good conversation about life, spiritual growth, and reaching out to folks in need of a clear direction in their life. He brought two friends. They are both excited to come back. My wife knows one of the visitors from working at Social Service. Conflicts of interest like this abound when your wife is a social worker in a town of 4000 people.

8:15 Get home from work

9:00 Put Karis to bed. About a 20 minute ritual.

9:30 Head out in a quest to find Jennifer a pizza. She saw and ad. Now she is hungry. Neither of us have had dinner yet.

10:00 Get home from running all over town. Pizza from Subway. Ice from Fresh Start. Drinks from Dakotamart Gas. Arghhh. Poor customer service all the way around.

10:15-MIDNIGHT Jennifer and I watch Catfish TV. I say that Cashfishers are either fat people who are ashamed of how they look or homosexuals. There is one of each in these two episodes. Called it!

MIDNIGHT-1 I can't sleep without alone time. I spend an hour doing nothing after Jen goes to bed. Then I go to bed as well.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Under Construction: Article for the paper on 8.5

16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. (2 Cor. 4:16 CEB)

Every once in a while I get in a conversation with someone about church and matters of faith. Usually somewhat isolated and from out of nowhere, I suppose because I am a preacher-creature, they say something like, “I don’t go to church because the church is full of hypocrites”.
I don’t often try and mount an argument at this point. One reason I do not argue is because I suspect that when people say something like this one of two things is happening. Either the person is speaking from a place of genuine pain coming from a difficult experience, or they are trying to pick a fight or be defensive, or all of the above. In any of these cases, trying to forcefully advocate faith and argue for being a part of a community of faith won’t get me very far.
Another reason I do not argue about this is because there is a ring of truth to the statement. No church will ever live up to the image of the ideal church that others place upon it, or the hopes that those that are a part of the church place on themselves.
Let me explain. If I am a believer in Jesus Christ in a biblical sense, I acknowledge that I am a sinful, broken person seeking to serve a perfect Savior that I believe is the only hope to make me whole, and in fact the only hope for the whole world. And I also acknowledge that although I am growing to be more like Jesus (I John 3:2), I am still a work in progress. I will be until the day I die.
As a Christian pastor, I see amazing things every day that God does in and through his people by the power of the Holy Spirit. I also see how truly messed up people can be, even people who say that they are believers in Christ. This does not surprise me. I know that as believers we are not even what we want to be, for even when we want to do right, we end up doing the wrong thing (Romans 7). I know that like unfinished works of art, God is still working upon each of us. And I know deep down in my heart that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—and I am compelled to follow him, and to participate in a community of faith because Christ draws me, and I know that even through the difficult moments in community God is making me into the person, and making you into the person, that he created us to be.
I have often issued a humorous invitation or threat, depending on how you look at it, to my congregation. I have often said that I am tempted to have a banner printed and placed on the front of our church building that says this, “No Perfect People Allowed, All Others Welcome”.

There is no such thing as a perfect person, other than Jesus. There is also no such thing as a perfect congregation of Jesus. The Church around the world is, I believe, the hope of the world. It is also continuing to be under construction. God is still working on his people, still working with his people. Seeking to make them whole. Seeking to work through his people to mend the world. God is still building his people, with Jesus Christ as the foundation stone or cornerstone. Thank God for his patience with me. Thank God for his patience with us. And thank God for the beauty and truth we find in the middle of the mess of life, and the light we find through the church in the darkness of this world. Thank God for the unearned gifts we received, including our own salvation. Thank God for his grace. Amen.