Thursday, July 29, 2010

Advanced Reading Copy Review: "The Power of a Whisper" by Bill Hybels

I had the privilege of reading an Advanced Reading Copy of The Power of a Whisper by Bill Hybels courtesy of Zondervan.  I didn't know what to expect going in as I have never read any of the writings of the Willow Creek founder.  

Overall, it was a good book but really wasn't necessarily suited for me.  That however does not mean that it isn't worth reading, but for someone who was a Religion major in undergrad and then went on to Seminary it just didn't bring anything great to the table for my tastes.  Personally, I would have found it more interesting if it was just a straight narrative piece that talked about the way God had "whispered" to Bill and how his responses (either listening or ignoring) ended up changing his life (for good or bad).  Now, those components are in there, but they are inter-twined with practical advice, etc.  This book is great for newer Christians or those who have remained "surface level" but are now going deeper and that is who the book seems to be directed toward.  In that regard this is a great book because you get to enter into Bill's reflections on how God has whispered in his life, but also see how he lives out a life attempting to hear the voice of God.

The best part of the book is probably the fourth chapter where it talks about how one can discern whether a whisper is from God or not.  Bill shares five "filters" that he uses to help him discern whether a prompting is from God or something of his own mind/desires.  
#1-  Is the Prompting Truly from God - take time to reflect and ask again
#2- The Scripture Filter - Does it match themes in Scripture
#3 - The General-Wisdom Test - Does it go against wisdom and common sense?
#4-  The Wiring Test - Does it match background, gifts, education?  This doesn't rule out the possibility of extreme change, but points to if it is a 180 there probably should be multiple affirmations of it.
#5-  The Godly Counsel Test - Run it by Christ-followers who are mature in their faith.

This is probably why I think this book is best for newer Christians or those who are now going deeper.  It is a great guide to helping discern how God might be prompting individuals in their life and gives some narration of how Hybels has interacted with God's "whispers" in his own life.

Zondervan Blog Tour: "Insights on John" Review

Originally, I wasn't too sure I wanted to undertake a blog tour review of a book that falls under the "reference" section of my pastoral library but I decided to do it anyway.  I will say this much Charles R. Swindoll has done a wonderful job of integrating biblical scholarship with an approachability and engagement that often can be hard to find in the genre.

What I really likes is the way the book is structured it allows you to engage with scholarship while at times feeling like it is in conversation with Swindoll himself.  Throughout the book he has placed some entries called "From My Journal" and they do a wonderful job of getting "real life" insights while finding connection with the scholarship.  There are also sections within the text called "application" which try to bring the text into an application for one's daily life.

Probably my favorite part of the book is the integration of wonderful imagery and diagrams.  For those of who may not engage as much with just words, this is a great addition because it helps connect the text with images and concepts.  This leads to another form of engagement with the text which is great and can expand this book to be valuable to anyone who seeks to look deeper into scripture.

Overall, this is a good book to engage in deeper insight and reflection on the Gospel of John and a chance to hear a particular voice with insights that can be beneficial to others within the Body of Christ.  However, if one is seeking deeper scholarship that really parses and focuses just on the text primarily and application/insights lightly and secondarily you might want to look for something different.  I would not use this as my sole "commentary" Scripture research if I were using this for research/preparation for sermons, etc.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blog Tour: "And" by Hugh Halter & Matt Smay

Once again, I am honored to be a part of reviewing a book for Zondervan on their blog tours.  This time around, I am writing about a great book titled And by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.


And is a great book that talks about the importance of both "the gathered and scattered church."  Or in my own words this book attempts to show the importance of the missional church, but in a way that tries to combat the often seen argument for the "superiority" of the missional church over the church many have grown up in (Halter and Smay that the church most have grown up is synonymous with "consumer church").  Halter and Smay argue that it is not an "or" situation but rather an "and" situation.  Math geeks everywhere get what they are saying (including myself).

The Foundation of the Book

In chapter 5, Halter and Smay point to an article by Ralph Winter (it can be found here), in which Winter points out the two functions of the church termed "modalities" and "sodalities."  In reading, Halter and Smay you can see how this insight by Winter has really informed their argument for the importance of the "and" rather than the "or."  Really what Halter and Smay are trying to say is the need for the "second decision" communities (sodalities) to help with the renewal of the Church in God's mission.

Why This Book is Needed

Probably, the best thing I took away after reading this book is the fact that Halter and Smay don't argue for the superiority of the "missional" church (or the "sodality"), but rather they try to point out the importance of both local congregations and missional communities (para-church organizations, house churches, etc.).  Greatest of all they offer encouragement and advice for leaders within local congregations (pastors, etc.) who believe the church is called to much more than its current "modalic" existence.  Their advice to start with a small amount of people who desire more and move from there is something that should give most local congregation leaders hope.  It doesn't take "drastic" measures of scrapping the entire existence, it only takes trust in God and a willingness to start somewhere.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hospitality and Churches

    Photo by Lumen Photography

The above picture is a photograph of Chris Lomen.  Chris Lomen is an amazing young man who is rollerblading 4000 miles in an attempt to raise money to rebuild schools in Haiti.  You can learn about his quest by visiting here.

I met Chris on the third day of his trek that began on June 29 when his friend, and co-journeyman, Chris Hamby called our church to see if we had a place the two of them could stay at.  They explained that they were rollerblading across the country to try and raise money to help Haiti and I didn't hesitate to say they could stay at my place.  Why would I?  I mean c'mon here are two young guys traveling across the country and one of them is rollerblading the whole distance and they are doing it not for themselves but to help people in need.  That was a no-brainer.  Well really it is a no-brainer because Stacy and I have attempted to continue to practice and live out a life of hospitality that God has called us to.  We were blessed to hear their stories and to get to know them and give them some shelter and comfort on their journey.

Part of what the two are doing is making contact with churches in each of their destination stops and seeing if they can help by providing a place to stay, etc.  It seems like a no-brainer that churches would be the place to call and that churches would be the part of communities that would reach out and help people like Chris who are doing such a great thing.  No brainer, right?  WRONG!

(1)  Over the 4th weekend it figures that many church offices would be closed and that is what they ran into as to be expected.
-I want to address this quick.  Part of the issue with churches/pastors is that they tend to not be available 24/7 to those outside of the church.  This isn't always because they don't want to be contacted, but because they fear putting their home phone/cell phone on the message machine because of people who often perpetually hit churches up for money/support.  I can understand that, but how many people do we fail to help who in an emergency situation are unable to reach someone?  With Google Voice there is now no reason why someone couldn't put that number as a contact and have it linked to your cell phone and controlled by Google on what gets through, etc.  Anyway, that was a tangental soap box.

(2)  After reading this blog entry, I was utterly disappointed in my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  I quote the response from one church to their inquiry:  "we raised money for Haiti months ago, so we don’t really have a reason to help you."  

-Don't have a reason to help you? Are we serious? We have to have a cause to help someone? Doesn't the Gospel compel us to help those in need? Not to mention the fact that they weren't asking for money. They were asking for shelter and food. I can almost guarantee someone in that church had an empty bed that they could have slept in and easily could have added food to their meal to provide for two more.

Thankfully, Chris and Chris have found shelter most of the time and have only had to camp once or twice and thankfully their are hotel owners in these towns who give shelter, but how disappointing to see the church failing to provide hospitality.  I continue to pray that Chris and Chris will be watched over by God and that God's love will continue to be poured out in response to what they are doing, but now I am also praying for God's Church.  I am praying for forgiveness for all the times we fail (including myself).