Saturday, September 26, 2015

Richard John Neuhaus (Book Review)

I chose to read this biography because I wanted to learn more about who influenced President George W. Bush on issues of faith while he was campaigning and in the White House. I learned that and more.

I knew nothing about Neuhaus before reading this book. I'd read quotes here and there but that's all. 

In this excellent biography by Randy Boyagoda, you not only learn that Neuhaus was incredibly influential all his life. You learn about a man who was his own man. What stood out to me beyond his influence was that he defied stereotype. That doesn't mean people didn't try to paint him in broad strokes. He was a complicated man who was not afraid to say and write what he thought about religion, politics and the culture.

He started out as a fairly liberal man by most accounts in the 60's. This was seen in his activist activities around the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. As the liberal movement became more visible to him, however, he saw what was lacking in the thinking behind their actions, policies and rhetoric. As a result, he ultimately swung right religiously and politically as he continued to be a vocal part of the nation's conversation regarding all things religious, political and cultural. By the 80's he was advising President George W. Bush and Pope John Paul II. 

While Neuhaus clearly had great self-confidence (at times, egotistical), he seemed driven by a love for people and the cultural systems our lives are lived out through. His tireless efforts influenced many influencers and so extended his ability to shape the American conversation about important matters around religion, politics and the American culture. 

At the end of the day, his legacy is clearly one of great positive influence on our national conversations even today. Boyagoda does a terrific job of sharing this. 

While I found myself, at times, impatient to get to the 80's, I found myself growing in appreciation for someone who so persistently sought to influence the most important cultural conversations--from his pulpit to his magazine First Things.

I also found myself inspired by his voracious appetite for reading and writing. He seemed to work tirelessly as if driven with a great sense of urgency. 

Boyagoda has served us well with this biography. Neuhaus served us well with his life. 

I'd also like to note that I really enjoyed Boyagoda's conversation with modern-day cultural warrior Eric Metaxas on his radio show The Eric Metaxas Show. When I got bogged down in reading the book I found myself inspired to finish it by this interview. I highly recommend both that conversation and that radio program. I listen to it as a podcast via the Apple Podcast app. 

In my personal efforts to counter our culture as it drifts further and further away from God's ideal, I am left inspired and challenged by Richard John Neuhaus. Thank you Randy Boyagoda for this important work. 

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Who Are You Equipping and Sending?

“This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”  Acts 19:10 NIV

Paul's work in Ephesus and the fruit that resulted is more than impressive--It's miraculous.

After preaching in the synagogue in Ephesus for 3 months, opponents made it clear to Paul that he was no longer welcome there. So he moved his ministry of preaching, teaching and prayer to Tyrannus' lecture hall for the next 2 years. 

From there Paul seems to have changed his previous strategy from going out on mission city to city to equipping and then sending other disciples out on his behalf. 

Paul setup a training center. I'm not saying that he didn't go out himself. However, unlike his previous missionary journeys, Paul seems to have figured out the power of sending out disciples who make disciples who make disciples. 

And they did. 

This verses reports, "This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord."

That's miraculous.

To be clear, we're not talking about the continent of Asia but the province. Probably modern day Turkey. 

Still, for a whole province to hear and have a chance to respond to the gospel in 2 years is amazing. God's power + a system/strategy of equipping and sending out others resulted in many becoming new disciples of Christ. 

What about us? Is this how we "do church?"

Paul may have equipped these folks but he didn't do it alone. He didn't run a fully funded mission organization either (though he did run/lead a strong one). He equipped and sent out men who in turn sent out their family, friends and others they trained up to go out and make disciples. It became a Jesus movement that led to my life thousands of years later being changed forever. 

Now I get to make disciples who make disciples!

Do we realize the privilege and responsibility we have before us today? Are we rearranging our life around this mission of making disciples who make disciples? If not, why not? 

There's nothing more important in this life than that. It's why we're still here and not on our way home already. It's the mission of God we've been invited to join.

What is God saying to you?
What are you going to do about it?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Restoring All Things

“...With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
Ephesians 1:8-10 NIV

"To bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ." This phrase warrants a little breaking down.

"To bring unity" or to restore the parts into one beautifully unified whole. 

Our world is like an old Mustang in the back yard up on blocks. It needs a lot of work to return to it's former glory. It needs a transformation that can only come through intentional and labor-intensive effort over time.

The "unity" part is the essential piece. We're taking our corrupted world and bringing it together. God is uniting all creation in purpose, on purpose, to it's former unified beauty.

"All things" means all things--everything. People, creation, heaven, earth...everything.

What's cool about all of this is that we "get" to be a part of it. As God's people--those he's reconciled to himself and to each other, we are being united by Christ into one, unified, purposeful family on mission together. 

This is God's plan. This is the mystery he revealed to Paul and then the world. God working to reveal his kingdom to our decaying world to restore it. 

Sure Christ will come one day and completely restore all things. That's coming and nothing can stop it. It will be a total work of God. That doesn't mean, however, we just kick back and wait for that to happen. We have something to do in the meantime.

We actively work to reveal this beautiful kingdom, one glimpse at a time, to our world. It is often through this effort that people are drawn to the King of that kingdom. Maybe the best way. God's family working in unity together to bring his kingdom to earth--a foretaste of the fullness of Christ that will be here when he returns.

Is this mysterious plan consistent with your "church" experience? Do you find yourself part of a family on mission together extending Christ's kingdom where you live, work and play? 

What is God saying to you?
What are you going to do about it?

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

It Takes Effort

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,”

Philippians 2:12 NIV

What does it take to live this way?

The mind of Christ.

That's what Paul is saying in the verses just before these. A Christ-like mindset is one based on humility--not pride. It's being a servant to all creation will you are their Creator King. The contrast is jaw-dropping.

Paul continues the contrast here when he talks about "shining like stars in the sky" (15). Just like pinpoints of light or luminary bodies in the night sky grab our attention, whether we like it or not, our lives--when lived with the mind of Christ--will grab the attention of others. It will be obvious and unmistakable.

What jumps out to me today is that this doesn't just happen. It takes effort. Intentional effort on our part.

"Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling," makes it clear this isn't effortless. Now we aren't earning anything here (we can't). We are, however, putting forth great personal effort. We are working--not casually playing--really working out our salvation. 

In a gym workout, you are pumping iron, jumping, running, rowing or doing some kind of strenuous exercise to get stronger. To succeed you need a plan, a place and a person to hold you accountable. It doesn't just happen.

The same is true of our spiritual walk. It takes a lot of effort. Some physical but mostly intellectual, emotional, and willful. 

Are you standing out like stars in the night sky to those around you or are you blending in? 

It's scary letting God's light shine out through you. It gets you more attention that you may want. It also brings glory to your Creator and Savior.

The only alternative is to hide your light under a basket. (Matt 5:14-16) We're called to much more than that.

What is God saying to you today?
What are you going to do about it?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Love > Faith

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  - Paul of Tarsus, 1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV

Love > Faith

As I think about the challenge of walking with God consistently and by faith, I’m often disappointed in myself. I wonder what I could do better and how to pull that off. I marvel over how I can have so little faith and yet see God work in my life. Do I pray for more faith or more courage to exercise the faith I already have? So many questions.

Mike Breen (@mike_breen) wrote a blog post recently where he was wrestling with healing and faith. He discerned that the key ingredient to prayers of healing wasn’t faith (as I always assumed and thought) but love. 

Love. I never saw that coming.

It’s almost obvious to me now. Love > Faith. 

Well, I’m thinking now that love is ALWAYS the key ingredient. Always. 

Struggling with sin? Love.
Marriage issues? Love.
Struggling with unity in the church—or someone in particular? Love.
Lacking peace? Love.
Seeking everything but God? Love.
Praying for healing? Love.
Praying for grace while suffering with chronic illness? Love.
Looking for guidance? Next steps? Love.
Praying for a loved one to come to Christ? Love.
Afraid? Love.

The love of the Bible is a word of action. (“Love is a verb.” -DC Talk) We’re not talking about “love" the emotion or “love" as brotherhood. We’re talking living a life of love that flows from being loved infinitely by a God who says he IS love. That’s big.

Love is seen in our actions. 
Love is heard and felt in our words. 
Love begins in our thoughts.
Love arrives because of our God-given faith. 

Think about Jesus. 

His actions were always motivated by love (for his Father, his followers and others aka UP-IN-OUT) and manifested love.
His words were guided by love (the Father). They propelled others to live a life of love.
His thoughts were always fueled and guided by love. 

God is love.
Jesus is God.
Jesus is love.

So Jesus was love with flesh on.

An example, yes. But more than that.

His love changed the world. 
His love changes the world.

His love in me changes me.
His love in me changes the world.

“We love because (God) first loved us."
-John the Beloved, 1 John 4:19 NIV

What God saying to you?
What will you do about it?

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Merciful Confrontation

“Son of man, will you judge her? Will you judge this city of bloodshed? Then confront her with all her detestable practices”
Ezekiel 22:2 NIV


The Lord is angry with his people. Israel is unfaithful and practicing "detestable" things. He lists these things throughout the entire chapter.

What gets my attention today, though, is that God confronts his people. He confronts them through his faithful prophet Ezekiel. He is direct. He is colorful and dramatic. Why does this stand out to me?

Because it's a picture of God's mercy. 

Not what you might first think.

Why is it merciful? Because if they don't realize that God's displeased and about to punish them, they might not repent turning back to him. They might just blindly live until his just wrath comes. Not what he wants. Not what we would want either.

So it's mercy. God confronting his people.

What is God confronting you about? Anything?

See it for what it is. Mercy. Then respond in humility and obedience rooted in faith in a trustworthy God. 

Because he is.

What is God saying to you right now?

What are you going to do about it?