Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Like That Only Better

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

I’m a big fan of C. S. Lewis. There’s nothing of his that I’ve read that I didn’t enjoy. My six year old daughter is developing a love for him as well. About six months ago I started reading her The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. She was absolutely enchanted with the story. Since I’ve been reading her a chapter of Chronicles of Narnia almost every night before bed.

As you may or may not know, Lewis wrote the Narnia stories as an allegory for the Christian faith. The other night my daughter and I were reading a chapter from The Silver Chair (Narnia). At a key moment in the book the lead characters, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole (from our world), Puddleglum the Narnian Marsh-Wiggle, and Prince Rilian of Narnia have been captured by an evil witch in underworld. They’ve been enchanted by her music. The witch is trying to convince them that the land on the surface, where they’re from, is only a dream.

In their enchanted stupor the try to convince her of the truth of the overworld. They try to describe the sun to her. In so doing they use a lamp as an illustration. It’s like the lamp, only better. Then they try to describe the great Aslan to her. He’s like a cat, only better.

Often, I feel like Eustace, Jill, Puddleglum, and Rilian when I try to explain to people about my life with Jesus. It’s like ordinary life, only better. But like the witch, why should someone believe me if the only way I can describe following Jesus is by saying it’s like that only better. Who can blame people for reacting like the witch and saying what a lovely dream that must have been.

Ultimately, Eustace, Jill, Puddleglum, and Rilian would rather hold on to their dream than submit to the dull “reality” of the witch. Once they’ve committed to this they are able to defeat the witch and are vindicated when they return to the surface.

It reminds me of Pascal’s wager. Pascal, the French philosopher, mathematician, and Christ-follower, argued that following Christ is a simple choice. In Pensees he argued that it only makes logical sense to follow Jesus whether it’s true or not. He said if you follow Jesus, you have the potential to gain everything but no matter what you lose nothing. If you don’t follow Jesus, you have the potential to lose everything but no matter what you gain nothing. How about you? How would you respond to Pascal’s wager?

Review of “They Like Jesus Not the Church” by Dan Kimball

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

This is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I first heard about it when it came out in 2007. I wish I had read it then. It would have helped me a lot in the process of developing the vision for Agape Ann Arbor.

The book is well written. Dan’s style is easy to follow and the stories he chose are both compelling and relevant. Overall, I like the format too. He broke the book down into three sections. The first section sets the context of the book by describing the culture and lifestyle of young adults in the 21st century. Section two focuses on specific views that young adults have of the Christian church. The final section offers advice to churches and Christians based on what Dan has learned over his many years of ministry.

The first section does a very good job describing the situation of a young adult in the 21st century. It describes well the cultural phenomena that have shaped this generation and the behaviors that this generation has developed. The one thing that I struggled with in this section is the overall tone. I’m well aware of the statistics that highlight that phenomenal lack of church participation among the 20 – 35 age group. What I remain unconvinced of is the uniqueness of this phenomenon to this generation. It’s become commonplace to bemoan the lack of religiosity among the younger generation. The builders did regarding the boomers. The boomers did regarding GenX. Now the boomers and GenX do regarding the millennial generation. Yet, I haven’t been presented with evidence that religiosity among the 35 – 50 age group is dramatically less than that group was 10 or 20 years ago. In other words, people have and keep coming back to church.

With that said, I don’t think we should dismiss what Dan and other authors are saying about young adults. Young adults have and will always react to their parents culture. The flappers did in the 20s. The boomers did in the 60s. What we’re experiencing now is the second verse same as the first. Yet with every verse, we have to learn. We have to learn new ways to reach the people who are responding negatively to the way things are today. That is where this book and the others like it are so important.

The phenomenon we’re experiencing isn’t anything new, but we still have to respond to it and do something about it. If we don’t we may experience something new. This group of young adults may not follow the normal pattern and return to the church. Moreover, every person that has ever lived is important to God and as Christ-followers it is our job to point them to his love. With every generation we need to learn to speak a new language that will point them to God’s love.

That’s where the second and third sections of Dan’s book are so important. His experience has been confirmed by a great deal of research and my own anecdotal experience. If you take the time to read the book, I bet your experience will confirm it too. Section two puts words to what we’re experiencing. Dan makes it concrete so we can address it. He provides the opportunity for all of us to open our eyes and understand “these kids” so we can communicate God’s love to them. Finally, he provides some advice on what to do about it.

I highly recommend Dan Kimball’s They Love Jesus but not the Church. Anyone who seriously wants to see God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven needs to read this book and consider seriously what they are going to do about what they learn.

Kindle Fire Review

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

OK, ever since I got my Kindle Fire, people have been asking for my review. I’ve had it for a month and a half now so here it goes.

Bottom line: I like it. It’s perfect for what I want. First, I like the size. I think I like the size better than I would the larger tablets that are out there. It’s much more portable. I’ve been able to put in my pocket as I was walking around. Second, the battery life is better than I expected. I’ve only charged it three times. Now, I don’t use it daily. I use it pretty regularly but not every day. The Amazon App store is quite comprehensive. I have yet to come across an app I want that’s not available. Finally, it’s a great e-reader. That’s mainly what I was looking for when I bought it. I wanted an e-reader that was compatible with Kindle books I already own. But, I didn’t want solely an e-reader. I wanted a tablet so that I had the ability to do more than just read.

There was an unexpected bonus to the Kindle Fire. The first week I owned it I went to London for a conference. The first day I was there my laptop crashed. That was incredibly frustrating for many reasons. One of the main reasons, however, was that I was planning on taking notes on the computer. I never carry a pen and paper with me anymore. I even to my daily Bible reading and journaling digitally. The Kindle Fire turned out to be a great note-taking device. I use Evernote for all my note taking. I was unsure about the touchscreen keyboard. I’m one of those weird people that still like to feel the keys when I type. I had very few problems taking notes on the Kindle Fire using the touchscreen keyboard. The only think I don’t like about the keyboard is where the period is in relation to the spacebar. I typically use my right thumb to press the spacebar and on the Kindle Fire I find myself hitting the period a lot instead of space.

Overall the Kindle Fire is a great device. There are a couple things that I would like to see improved. My only real frustration is the lack of connection between the books and social media. I don’t know if there’s a copyright issue, but there are often times I’d like to post a quote from the book I’m reading to Facebook or Twitter. There is no way to do that with the Kindle Fire. I can cut and paste with the Kindle App on my Mac Book so it seems to me that the same functionality should be available on the Kindle. The other thing I’d like to do is move smoothly between apps. It’s a little thing but, it’s frustrating to have to go to the homescreen when I want to go to another app. I was using my Kindle Fire during one an Agape Community Gathering. Because I couldn’t seamlessly switch between a book and my Bible app I had to pull out my phone so that I could have both my Bible and the book I was using during our gathering. The other thing I don’t like is the location of the power button. It doesn’t make sense to have the power button on the bottom. I was using it as my Bible when I was speaking at a church and it powered down when I set it on the stand and I didn’t notice until I picked it up to read from it. (Fortunately I had the Bible text printed in my notes so I was able move on pretty quickly.) Yes, the screen automatically adjusts orientation but the opening screen to unlock the device is static. It’s a minor thing but it was incredibly inconvenient at the worst possible time for me.

If you’re looking for an e-reader that will provide additional functionality, the Kindle Fire is a great choice.

Leadership Pipeline

Friday, April 30th, 2010

While in a seminary leadership class I read a great book on leadership by Ram Charan et. al.; The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company. The book discusses why corporation often fail to develop leaders in their organizations. The root problem, Charan proposes, is that the organization does not think about the skills and training necessary to develop a leader in their organization. Rather than preparing and promoting the best leaders they promote the best performers who often are not the best leaders. For instance, the best salesman in the organization may be great at sales but mat never be a good sales manager.

The book proposes that to develop leaders in an organization the organization needs to first identify the skills and abilities necessary for the next level of leadership. Then they can train to and promote to those skills and abilities.

I think this is true in the church world as well. It seems that those who are the best communicators or have the best stage presence are pushed into leadership in the church, whether they are good leaders or not. I think we have failed to identify the skills and abilities necessary to lead in the church. We, therefore, train and promote communication ability and neglect other necessary skills and abilities.
We need to identify the skills and abilities necessary to lead and start training to and promoting to those. Below I’ve started a list of skills and abilities that I think are necessary for leadership in the church. What would you add or subtract and why?

Communication (While I think this one is over-emphasized I don’t think it should be left out.)
Team Building
Project Planning
Delegation
Time Management
Supervision
Task Evaluation
Leadership Evaluation

The CALL to Leadership (Learn Continuously)

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

There is one more characteristic of leadership that I want to discuss in this series, Learn Continuously. Leaders are learners. When you stop learning you should stop leading because you are no longer equipped to lead.

There are two aspects of learning that are vital to leadership. The first is personal effort. Bill Hybels the great leader that launched Willow Creek church and continues to invest in leaders around the world through the Willow Creek Association often says, “Leaders are readers.” He encourages leaders to have a book with them at all times and continuously invest in themselves by reading. When leaders stop learning they stop being effective in their leadership. They get bound to the way things used to be. They start implementing new ideas with old systems that were effective then but are irrelevant now. As a leader you need to develop a learning plan. To get you started here are a couple of books that I recommend. Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels. Visioneering by Andy Stanley. The Leadership Pipeline by Ram Charan.

The second place leaders need to focus on learning from is their team. If you’re the only one with good ideas on your team you either need a new team or need to get over yourself. The leader should never be the person with the all of the best ideas. The leader should be the person with the vision for where the team is going and skill to guide the team to get there. The strategy should come from the best ideas from the team. The best way to develop your strategy is to cast the vision to your team then ask them how to get there. This will do several things. (1) It will help your team feel a sense of ownership for the vision. (2) It will force your team to stretch intellectually. (3) It will help you see who the leaders are in whom you need to invest. (4) It will help you learn to be a better leader.

This is your CALL to leadership, Care Relentlessly, Act Graciously, Lead Courageously, and Learn Continuously.

What other characteristics to you find essential to effective leadership?

Monkey and the Fish

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

Dave Gibbons’ “Monkey and the Fish” is both thought-provoking and inspiring. In it Gibbons presents a new metaphor for ministry. He focuses on the concept of third-culture. Third-culture is a phenomenon that is noticed in the children of missionaries and military families that live in different countries. To survive and thrive in the new culture these children learn to adapt to different cultures by assimilating into the new culture without rejecting their original culture. Such children tend to adapt and thrive easily in differing contexts because of this third-culture ability.
Gibbons argues that the church should reflect this third-culture and be able to adapt and thrive in any context. One of the great historical weaknesses in the church’s mission has been the meshing of Christianity and culture. There is a tendency for missionaries to expect new believers to conform to their culture. George Hunter III describes this of the Roman Church’s method of evangelism ca. 400 AD in “The Celtic Way of Evangelism.” The Roman missionaries expected the Germanic and Celtic people to become Roman before they could become Christ-followers because they believed that their culture was inferior and unable to mesh with Jesus’ teachings. This is the same problem many evangelical churches have today. They confuse their culture with the content. They confuse how they communicate the gospel with the gospel. A third culture church sees value in other cultures and seeks to become a part of the new culture to communicate the life-giving, life-changing message of Jesus in that context.
There is one concept in Gibbons’ book that I’m struggling with; his emphasis is on multi-culturalism and investing in the under-resourced. This has much to do with his background personally and in ministry. Third-culture is not just a way to get more diversity in a primarily white suburban church. Third-culture is a new metaphor to describe what in the past was known as incarnational ministry. The goal is to present Jesus and his love to people where they are at, whether it’s the single mother in a subsidized apartment, a corporate executive living in a large house in the suburbs, a Midwestern farmer, or a tea grower in East Asia. All are loved by God and we need to reach them with the message of Jesus where they are at, not bring them into our western culture then share Jesus with them.
With that said, “Monkey and the Fish” will encourage you to reach out to the people around you in new and fresh ways and give you practical steps to help you focus yourself and your ministry on the gospel and how to communicate it no matter the culture into which God is calling you.

Transformational Architecture

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Transformational Architecture by Ron Martoia is a must read for anyone serious about trying to help people connect with God.  Ron takes a serious look at the way most people today communicate the to others about Jesus and offers a counter-point to the way most people that follow Jesus have been taught to share what that means.  The major thesis of the book is that we’ve been taught to start too late in the story.  Rather than starting with the fact that we’re all dealing with sin, Transformational Architecture argues that we should start with the fact that we’re all created in the image of God.

For Ron, being created in the image of God means that there are three fundamental yearnings built into the architecture of our existence that provide the key launching points to help us connect with God.  By utilizing these launching points we have ample opportunity to have profitable conversations about God and faith.

My struggle with Ron’s work deals with an issue that I’m still wrestling with in my mind as well.  I’m not sure if I agree with him or not but I’d like to hear him elaborate on the point.  One of Ron’s major critiques of the way a lot of people view following Jesus is that most people try to set up a way to tell if someone is “in or out.”  Ron argues that it is not for any of us to know but only God.  I want to agree with him on this but I’m not sure I can.  In one sense I will never know if you are in or out and you will never know if I am.  Yet, if you come to me and ask if I’m in, I feel very confident in saying yes.  With that, I feel I should be able to guide you to discover if you are (Isn’t that the point of having these conversations?).  Moreover, I think that God has given us some clues to help us see in ourselves and others if we are truly following Jesus or just paying him lip service (i.e. the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5).  It is also my presupposition that there is a point when we cross from death into life (Romans 6:13) and become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).  I wish that Ron would have addressed these issues.  Perhaps, they were out of the scope of this book but these are unanswered questions that I have to continually work through as I share Jesus with those around me.