29.9.10

Q12: Questions In My Relationship With God

Question: What are the biggest questions you have regarding your relationship with God? Have they been answered? If yes, how have those answers helped you? If not, how do you feel about them not being answered and how has that impacted your life and your view of God?


Usually the best deal you can get is a two-for-one.  Clearly the author of this question wanted to go one better, asking instead for a three-for-one!  I will try to oblige, but this is no easy question :) 


To begin, I would like to link you this excellent interview with Stanley Hauerwas, which I was led to through this post by a friend. In it, Hauerwas (who is an evangelical Christian) says something shocking: “The last thing in the world I'd want is a personal relationship with God.” Before you throw Hauerwas off the bus, or me for that matter, know that his remark makes sense in context. He is rejecting the idea that our relationship with God can be a private thing.  Instead, it must be mediated through the body of Christ, a people formed by the word and sacrament of Christ.  He goes on to add that he would never trust himself with a personal relationship with God.  Anyway, I thought this was interesting; on to the question itself. 


One of my biggest questions regarding my relationship with God is why He doesn't fix everything faster.  I set it up in a logic chain like this: God loves me and wants what is best for me, God is capable of making me the best I can be, and I want God to make me the best I can be (nod to free-will there).  If all of this is true then why isn't it happening? Given the logic chain, I must be stopping Him somehow... except that no part of me is capable of stopping God.  Round and round I go.  


Has this question been answered? Kind of.  In the end I reject logic chains such as this one.  There is always a flaw; life is more complicated than an "A + B = C" logic chain can encompass. (As an aside, I have this same problem with aspects of Calvinism and how the problem of evil is often stated) So, my answer is to trust God and walk with Him. To seek with perseverance, to continue to hope and pray, and know that God does love me and desire my best, but that I also need to love Him and desire His best.  


This answer has definitely impacted my actions and views when it comes to God and Spirituality.  When I mess up I find it much easier to move on; not because my sin is less serious, but because I know God's heart. When I am not who I want to be, I get less discouraged than I used to.  The path is still before me, the light still around me, and I can keep walking forward.  Even more than this, I appreciate the story and the journey more.  When life is a logic problem you need a solution; most of the time solutions are hard to come by.  When life is a road you need a destination and a travelling companion; Jesus gives  me both.  



27.9.10

"About You" By Dick Staub


Dick Staub, About You: Fully Human, Fully Alive. Jossey-Bass, 2010. 194 pgs. 

About You is, not surprisingly, about you.  It is about you in the sense that it is about all human beings.  Staub's thesis, a quote from Hans Rookmaaker, is on the cover: Jesus didn't come to make us Christian, Jesus came to make us fully human.  Staub, then, offers a theological anthropology of what it means to be fully human and that Jesus has called us to this.  He begins with several chapters exploring the idea that we all long for something better, that we know we were made to be more.  He then has three sections: one explores the fall of mankind and resulting death, the next the path to becoming alive, and the third how we can be made new.

Lately there seems to have been a spate of new books published which attempt to redefine and re-explore the gospel.  I have reviewed several of them, and another is on the way.  Mostly, they are disappointing.  Meanwhile, Staub, in a book which advertises no such thing, has done a better job of presenting the gospel in non-Christian language, in a new light, and in an appealing manner than any of these other attempts.  

Obviously, About You, does not incorporate a full theological exploration of the gospel and all its facets.  However, as far as the gospel is about you, Staub has nailed it.  The parts of the gospel which are not about you are present in Staub's book, if perhaps a bit to subtly for my taste.  For example, the idea of serving others comes up in a brief paragraph at the end of the book and that is all.  The danger of this book is that it could easily be read by people who are already completely self-focused and they would likely miss the parts of the book meant to pull our focus off of ourselves and onto God and others.  This is not so much a criticism of Staub, as one cannot write a book for everyone, as it is a warning about the content of the book.  The language and focus lend themselves to this problem, but do not create it.  

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Staub has combined the insights of some of the greatest Christian thinkers, both recently and throughout history, to present a clear and appealing presentation of parts of the call of Jesus. 

Conclusion: 4 out of 5 stars. Recommended. 

Q11: Best Book Ever?

Question: What is one book (besides the bible) that has had the greatest influence on your life? 

Here we have another second choice question.  I think I need to give two answers though, and I will explain why. 

The first book that comes to mind is The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. The book itself is great, however the reason I would count it as having the greatest influence in my life is because this was the first Christian Non-Fiction I read and it led me to read many others.  I can think of no greater influence than this, because it encompasses, in a way, many of the good books I have read since.  Most, if not all, of the best books I have ever read have had this effect: they lead me to other good books.  


However, I have a feeling that this may not be quite what the question is getting at.  If I had to choose a single book that, as it stands and without considering how it has led me to other books, has had a great influence on my life then I think I would choose Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  The reason for this choice is that this book helped me more than any other in deepening my walk with, and experience of, God. 


23.9.10

"Uncle Sam's Plantation" by Star Parker



Star Parker, Uncle Sam's Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What We Can Do About It. Thomas Nelson, 2010. 241 pgs. 

Disclosure: This book was given to me by Thomas Nelson to review. 

The title really does say it all in this case.  Parker argues the US government has caused a lot of problem, keeping the poor enslaved to a liberal mindset which is preventing them from actually being helped. She claims that ever since the great depression, the USA has been headed down the wrong path: towards free-loading moral relativism, and away from the character, responsibility, and freedom that made the US great. She explores this effect in multiple areas of life: welfare, sexuality, education, and the family. She concludes by arguing that the answer is to hold up freedom as opposed to dependence.

As I review this, I am acutely aware that I am Canadian and, therefore, am approaching this book with a somewhat unique perspective.  I am not a Republican nor a Democrat, and I do not live with all of the problems listed in this book (though, we have plenty of our own problems in Canada, and many are very similar).  In the end though, this book came off as a well written Republican rant.  Parker effectively mixes polished rhetoric with unreferenced statistics to make her arguments sound very convincing.  However, I couldn't help wondering how many lines she had blurred in her attempt to fit the entire republican agenda into this diatribe against liberals.  There were many points in her book where I agreed, and many where I disagreed, and part of the problem I have always had with politics in the US is that with a two party system so many different items get glued together and the package is nigh inseparable.  This is unfortunate; there are some very interesting thoughts here and Parker's defense of responsibility, virtue, and character are stirring.  

Conclusion: 3 Stars, Not Recommended.  A well written book, but not very informative.  

22.9.10

Q10: Changing Me

Question: If your life could be whatever you wanted it to be, what would you change?

I don't really like this question.  As a Christian, I know that I am to be content with what the Lord has given me. Even that though, I am very grateful for all that the Lord has given me.  Kristina is amazing.  In fact, I would say that she is the best wife ever! We have two healthy children, cute and growing and so much fun.  I have a job that I feel called to and blessed in, I enjoy it and am surrounded by good people.  And I trust that God is giving me what I need. 

So... what would I change? Well, there are all the obvious ones: having the complete bible memorized in multiple translations, including the original languages (which I would, of course, fully understand).  Having more money, both for my family and to give away.  Not having any debt, which goes along with that first one. Maybe I would have written and published a book or two by now. 

Even as I say those things, I don't think they are that important.  I know that the mistakes I make are also good for learning and growing.  But if there is one thing I would change it would be to get rid of some of the bigger mistakes I have made.  I would never have looked at pornography.  I would never have run from God when he called me to ministry.  I would have always treated Kristina right (thank you for being so forgiving when I don't).  

Blech.... bad question.  

20.9.10

"Nudge" By Leonard Sweet



Leonard Sweet, Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who's Already There. David C. Cook, 2010. 329 pgs. 

Disclosure: This book was provided, for me to review, by The Ooze. Thanks a bunch!

This is a book about evangelism.  As a book about evangelism, the subtitle kind of says it all.  Sweet argues for an approach that centers on the idea that God is already there and, because of this, people just need to be nudged into awareness.  As a result, this book is also about much more than evangelism.  Running through it are Sweet's own nudges to the reader to herself become more aware of the God who is already there.  With his typical fast paced mix of pop-culture, ancient wisdom, and interesting metaphor Sweet takes the reader on a journey through the senses.  Part 1 of his book explains the idea of nudge, focusing on paying attention, watching, witnessing, and bearing witness.  He then introduces what will be the focus of part 2, the 5 senses.  In his own words, "it is the thesis of Nudge that the evangelists constantly scan the environment (religious, cultural, economic) for evidences of divine activity." This he sets out to do, to teach us how to do, and to encourage us to actually get out and do.  

This is an amazing book.  Yes, it has problems.  Sweet definitely has to stretch things at some points in order to fit them into his model.  His condemnation of the more ascetic parts of Christian spirituality is shallow and, at times, spurious.  Personally, Sweet's style/method is too much for me at times.  It took me much longer to read this book than it would for another book of similar size, because Sweet jumps around like a hyperactive squirrel on an energy drink. Not only that, some of this thoughts seem to be squeezed in there because they are `good` but they don`t actually relate well to his point.  I know the feeling.  I hear a good joke, and I so badly want to push it into a sermon, but it rarely works. 

However, by and large, this book is filled with though provoking material, well written, and designed to move the reader to see God.  I think that is some of the highest praise I can give a book: that it pushes the reader to see God.  Although, not only see, but taste, touch, hear, and smell as well.  

One part I want to share was Sweet`s thoughts on boredom.  It comes in a section called ``The Problem Is Not With Life.` He talks about his kids getting bored, and says: ``Life is full of wonderful, exciting, and adventurous things. My kids don`t have life fatigue.  The problem is not with life.  The problem is with them.`` (46-47) He goes on to argue that the real problem is that we disconnect, we enter a state of semiotic breakdown, and we become unable to read the `signs`around us which point to life.  We are no longer able to see the signs of God moving around us, the signs of what is possible, what we could do and be.  Thus, we are bored.  

Conclusion: 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Recommended. The style grates (maybe not for you though?), but the content makes up for it.  This is a worthy read for any Christian, either to become more aware of the God who is already there, or to help others do the same.  


Q9: More Death

Question: What would you most like people to remember you for after you die? What would you like written on your tombstone?


Shortly after entering my undergrad, I did something I thought I would never do: I ordered something off of late night television.  It was a dual CD collection called "Classic Country: Great Story Songs."  I have to say, I felt very wary as I repeated my credit card number over the phone, listening to the strangely distant women on the other end of the line assure me that I would have my CD's very soon. 

On the album were such old-time hits as BJ the DJ, Big Bad John, and Ballad of the Green Berets.  I greatly enjoyed that album, being exposed for the first time to this music and lyric both creative and interesting.  Most of all I just like songs that have a story (more recently, I got free tickets to a concert featuring Mark Schultz.  I didn't really know much about him, but he started his set with the song "Walking Her Home," which is a story song.  That was all it took; I became a fan).  Anyway, though I enjoyed the album a lot, I remember talking to my Mom about it and telling her that there was one thing I noticed: Almost all of the songs feature death, and a lot of it.  This, of course, is why I bring up this story.  I am enjoying doing these questions, but as I come to question 9 and face death for the third time... well, lets just say I feel like I did as I listened to that album. 

On to the question.  I think I would want my tombstone to say this:

Andrew James Demoline
Nov. 10 1982 - Nov. 10 2082
God's
He lived in faith, hope, and love 
and these he leaves behind
in the lives of those who knew him. 

And that is also what I would like to be remembered for: for being the Lord's man, and for living the life he has laid out for me.  I have to say, however, that I war against my pride in this. I would love to be remembered  as a 'great'.  A great writer, a great speaker, a great leader, etc.  The idea of leaving my mark upon the world pulls at me a great deal. However, in the end, what I want more than anything is to leave Christ's mark on the world.  I say that as the 'right' answer, because it is.  I also say it as the 'true' answer, not because I can say that 100% of me is always in that place, but because that is my goal. 



p.s. definitely the strangest feeling at the end of a post right now. 

16.9.10

Q8: Living in the Bible

Question: If you could witness, or live through, one part of the bible, which would it be and why? (other than any part of Jesus life)

Yeah, I suppose the obvious and common answer is the life of Jesus.  So, what would my 2nd choice be? I think I would choose the Acts church, starting in the upper room.  So many people try to use Acts as a church manual, which it clearly isn't, but I understand the impulse.  What was the first church like? How did it feel to be a part of that community? How is it possible that Luke could write of them that "all the believers were together and had everything in common" ?  It seems like it would be such an amazing community, and yet we know that they too had their problems.  I think that I would learn a lot from being there, seeing the things they struggled with and the things they didn't.

Even more interesting, to me, would be the opportunity to speak with the 12 apostles! I could ask them all the weird questions about Jesus I wanted, and I could get Philip to tell me the good news of Jesus starting from Isaiah (or some other book of the OT) and hear how they presented the gospel.  Maybe I could even meet Paul, and question him about theology.

Yep, definitely the church of Acts. What about you? What would you live through?

15.9.10

Q7: Living On

Question: What if you knew you were going to live tomorrow?

This question is a corollary of the 2 "what if you knew you were going to die?" posts I did last week.  What I think about when I ask this question is this: what if I knew I was a statistically average person (for me that means I will live to be 77.8 or so) with a full life expectancy ahead of me?  What would I do with that time? 

The trouble for me is that I am living my answer.  I guess that is not really trouble, its a blessing, but makes for a fairly boring post.  Given an average lifespan, I would seek to grow daily in my faith, falling deeper in love with God and getting to know Jesus more and more with each passing moment.  I would want to use and develop the gifts God has given me, for His glory and the furtherance of His kingdom. I would want to grow in the love of Christ, and I would do this through my family, friends, and serving in ministry. I would seek wisdom, beginning in the fear of the Lord.  I would love Kristina more and more each day so that each year of our marriage is better than the last.  I would have a family and be the best father I could be, learning and growing through having children, and also helping them to do the same. 

I would put my priorities on the things of God rather than earthly things, know that I am a citizen of the kingdom of Heaven, and act accordingly as an ambassador for Christ. I would chase the "life to the fullest" Jesus offered with each breathe I have been gifted with. 

Of course, I would do all these things imperfectly, but so what? :) 

So, are you living as if your whole life matters? Are your priorities such that if you knew you had a whole life ahead of you that you would be moving in a good direction? Or have you said 'later' to far too many things, using the time you have as an excuse instead of an opportunity? In other words, what would you do if you were going to live tomorrow? 

A 2nd Look

If you read my review, a few days ago, on Turning Controversy Into Church Ministry you may have also read the analysis I posted about some of the statistics in that book, and questions/doubts I had regarding them. 

Very shortly after publishing those posts, W.P. Campbell himself, the author of said book, commented and offered several clarifications on these issues.  Because I think some people will have read the post before those comments were added, I want to draw your attention back to them, in order to be fair to Campbell and his book. 

Among other points, Campbell rightly noted that: 
"the point being made in the book is quite tangential to its main arguments, and the actual point made is very relevant and not a distortion of the trends in our country (in this case related to marriage)."

He also warned, again rightly, that (speaking of me): 
"your references to “alarmist” usage of data can itself become “alarmist.” I believe the main theme and tone of my book is untainted by the concerns you have raised and that any book with statistical references can be debated in terms of the usage of data. But this book is aimed to avoid controversy, not to create it, and in my research I have intentionally left out a lot of statistical data and its interpretation from both extreme camps related to this controversial issue."

Lastly, he provided a useful link which outline in more detail some of his sources and statistics. 
http://www.yearofjubilee.org/2008/07/clergy-statistics-and-resources

Head to the comments section on the blogpost linked above to see his full comments and my response. 

13.9.10

Q6: Childhood Memories

Question: What's one of the most memorable times of your childhood?

I have so many strong memories from childhood and not nearly enough space to share them all.  Writing them up has been a more emotional experience than I anticipated.  Anyway, here they are: 


The Theme: Words to Live By

I don't know how old I was, but my brother Shawn and I were having a fight.  Mom broke us up and did the motherly detective duty, trying to find out what was going on.  I also don't remember what was going on... I know, great story so far, right? What I do remember is this: each of us started to blame the other, and Shawn brought up something I had done sometime in the distant past.  I think my mom had had "just about enough" at that point (can you hear that motherly tone?), and so she responded by telling Shawn that if he held on to all the little things people did and thought about them for months that he would grow up to be a very bitter person.  At the time, I was ready with my list of things Shawn had done in months past, and so her words were equally applicable to me.  For some reason, they stuck.  Hearing that made me try to forget the bad and remember the good, to make that a habit (contra this song).  I am not saying I never remember bad things, but that moment, that sentence, has influenced me a lot. 


The Places: Bragg Creek

I have many memories of living in Bragg Creek.  We had this long one story home, painted a dull red, with a U-driveway. It was on a large property, trees all around, and it backed onto a valley with a creek in it.  All the houses around also backed onto the valley, leaving the space in the middle as the best playground ever. We had so much fun there.  Building dams in the summer with Dad, picking raspberries in the nearby patch, climbing up Ol' Yikey (I think that is what Dad called it), sliding down the hill in the winter, getting my Mom to slide down the hill in the winter (only to watch her hit a tree :), playing make believe games with friends, and on and on.  Inside the house was fun too.  The basement is, in my memory, mysterious; dark rooms filled with leather furniture, a bar, places we just didn't go that much as kids.  On the main floor the family room had this high ceiling, and overlooking the couch was a kind of attic crawl space cubby hole thing. You got into it by climbing up a ladder in the mud room (a ladder which I am sure I fell off of at least once, if not more).  We would drop those little plastic parachute men from up there. 

One winter as my cousins, brother, and I walked by the creek we found this hanging ice bridge which went over it.  Perfect for crossing.  We started out rational enough: 1 at a time, older people first, lighter people first, and so on.  So, I started across.  Just as I made it to the other side both Shawn and Christine were trying to cross... straight into the creek.  So here I am, stuck on the wrong side, while they are climbing out and being rushed back to the house to dry off and get warm and be safe.  I looked for what felt like a long time to try and find a way back across, all alone and worried.  Eventually I just picked the shallowest part of the creek and ran across.  I don't know if the ice held me up or if it was so shallow I was really walking on rocks, but I made it.  


The People: Family
I have a lot of memories with family.  Family reunions filled with people I hardly knew and people I knew and loved.  I remember 'teaching' Brad (another cousin) that he could swim.  There was this water-slide and pool and Brad liked to go down it.  I don't know how old he was, but he thought he needed to be caught at the end.  So, I told him I would catch him.  Then I waited, and as he came down the slide I stepped out of the way.  He had water wings on, and he knew what to do, he was just scared.  He did fine, no longer needed someone to catch him, and later thanked me for doing that.  I think I'm just lucky he didn't freak out on me! Props to you Brad :) 

Continuing with family memories.  We visited family in Saskatoon a lot, or they visited us, and we always had good times.  Staying at Grandma and Grandpa's house, or Auntie Gwen's house, sleeping over with our cousins and staying up late talking and playing video games.  Or renting out an entire church to have a Christmas party.  That was a lot of fun.  All of our parents got us nerf guns and we got to use the whole building to have a nerf war.  So good.  


Places Part 2: The Lake

Then there's "The Lake."  Turtle Lake, to be precise.  My grandparents own a cabin up there and we tried to make it up most summers.  That was also a lot of fun.  We would go fishing, or play at the beach (especially with the giant blow-up turtle raft), have ice-cream, and just enjoy time together. 

One of our favorite activities there was building tree forts to have water fights.  I think we built up some of these forts over years.  They became elaborate three story affairs made of wood planks, particle board, branches, and whatever we could scrounge up.  Part of the goal was just to get as high as you could because if you had a height advantage you could reign down deathly water balloons on your foes fort.  It was always Kevin and I vs. Shawn, Cameron, and Brad (because Kevin and I were the oldest).  In my memory, Kevin and I always won :)


The Lord Gives, and the Lord Takes Away

To finish up, one of my favorite childhood memories, but also a somewhat sadder memory.  

I grew up camping and doing stuff outside and we always had a lot of fun.  The best such trip, however, was when my brother, my Dad, my Uncle Ken, my Cousin Greg, and I went on a several day canoe trip from eastern Manitoba, crossing into Ontario, and back.  We had never done anything like that before.  Bags tied into canoes, everything packed with us, we set off.  Each day was filled with relaxing time on lakes and rivers and streams, portages where we had to carry everything through trails, setting up and taking down tents and on and on.  I learned a lot on that trip.  I learned that food tastes a hundred times better when you cook it yourself, eat it outside, and have it after a day of hard work.  With such sauces even spam tasted good (we did catch enough fish, but somehow felt that the trip wouldn't be complete if we didn't eat spam at least once).  I learned that fishing can be fun when its not just for fun, if you know what I mean.  I also learn the importance of not casting near at tree... did we ever get that wire untangled or did we just cut it? I found out how much I enjoyed God's creation.  I learnt that spending extended periods of time together in that way brings people closer together. I saw, in the relationship between my Dad and my Uncle, how much brothers can be a blessing (even if I didn't figure out how to apply that lesson until much later!). I know, these are simple things, but we had a lot of fun and I look back on that trip with great fondness.  

Those memories, of that canoe trip, are also tinged with sadness.  My Uncle Ken was diagnosed with a brain tumor and passed away after that.  I want to say shortly after that.  It feels like it was shortly after that.  But my memory for dates and ages and times is terrible; it could have been years.  Uncle Ken worked in a nuclear power plant, and I have always blamed his cancer on that.  More importantly, I look back and wish we could have done more trips like that, spent more time together.  I know we would have, if only...  My Uncle Ken's death brought some painful firsts into my life as well. It was the first time I saw my Dad cry, and it was my first experience of losing a loved one.  I do wish we had had more time.  But I am very grateful for the time we did have, and for that trip we did take.  


THANKS!

I get to the end of this post, and feel like I have missed so much.  So many ski trips, both downhill and cross country, that fill my childhood like sparkling winter diamonds. The pool in the backyard in Regina and all the fun and parties we had there.  As well as more life lessons, like learning that some people value image more than friendship, and how much that can hurt.  

Mostly, I think I have to conclude by thank my parents and my extended family.  You have filled my life with good memories, joyful and meaningful times, that have helped make me who I am today.  God has used you greatly, so thank you and praise the Lord!

Blog Tour: "Turning Controversy into Church Ministry" by W.P. Campbell


W.P. Campbell. Turning Controversy Into Church Ministry: A Christlike Response to Homosexuality. Zondervan, 2010. 240pgs. 

Another blog tour sponsored by http://engagingchurchblog.com/.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this. 

I have to say that when the option to sign up to review this book arrived I was intrigued.  Read that title a couple of times; doesn't it sound interesting? As a pastor how could I not want to turn controversy into church ministry? So, I signed up with two hopes: that this book would offer helpful insight into the issue of homosexuality and into some more general applications for dealing with controversies in the broader sense.  Were my hopes met, or dashed against the rocks? Read on to find out!

Campbell has divided this book into three parts.  In part one he invites the reader to analyze the current position and situation of his own church with three chapters focusing on three questions: Where do you stand in terms of grace, truth, and passion? Where do you stand in terms of dealing with sin and connecting with pain? Where do you stand in terms of scripture and who you follow? In part two he spends six chapters examining the controversy surrounding homosexuality. He moves through issues of science, psychology, and compassion/care.  Finally, in part three, Campbell offers a blueprint of how a church could incorporate ministry for sexual brokenness into their congregational activities.  This involves six 'spheres' drawn from the story of Nehemiah: Motivation (prayer), Vision (leadership), Healing (family values), Growth (mentors and counselors), Support (small groups), and Celebration (outreach).  His overarching thesis is that Christ desires to minister to those who struggle with sexual brokenness and that He can do so through our churches, despite the controversy and difficulties which surround these issues. 

Sadly, I almost did not make it past the first chapter of this book.  To be blunt, there seem to be several statistical errors and exaggerations designed to intensify the need for this book.  (Click the link to read my more detailed analysis)  I found this especially disappointing in a book which has a short section entitled "The Misuse of Statistics Today."  Still, I pressed forward.  After chapter one there are not too many other statistics at all, even if those I came across were also suspect. Not only that, but the rest of this book is worth reading, so I am glad I read on. 
Edit: Campbell has himself left some very helpful comments about my post about statistical errors.  They appear at the end of this post. He has included much more detailed explanations of his sources and very appropriate, and true, comments about my own words (that I need to be careful my own comments do not become alarmist, that these points are tangential, and so on).  Please make sure to read those comments as well as my own post.  

Errors aside, this book was a balanced and interesting approach to ministering in the midst of sexual brokenness.  The second section of the book explored the various facets of the controversy in an in-depth and accessible fashion.  Campbell ends each of these chapters with a lengthier story and some of them were quite moving.  In the third section Campbell offers a good overview of a possible ministry model for a church, with some standard, but helpful, thoughts on such issues as leadership, prayer, and small groups.  He is absolutely right in that any church seeking to minister to sexual brokenness needs to incorporate that ministry into the life of the church.  The whole Nehemiah thing felt like a cheap add on, as if he needed a biblical story to tack onto his model, but considering the state of Christian literature I can forgive that. 

Overall, this was an interesting book.  I learned a lot about the homosexuality and the controversy surrounding it, had a chance to do some worthwhile reflections on my own attitudes, and was challenged in how I deal with controversial and difficult issues which require the love of Christ.  In terms of my two initial hopes, my first was well met. My second was met but I had to get there myself.  In other words, Campbell doesn't actually offer general thoughts on dealing with controversial issues, but his book contains such insights if the reader abstracts them from the work.  

??? stars, conditionally recommended.  Content wise, discounting the stat stuff, I would give this book a 3.5. But, I can't quite get over the statistical issues and I am not sure how that should affect this rating. Other than that, this book is helpful for those interested in the subject, and especially for this involved in church ministry.  

Staggering Statistical Errors?

Note: This post is meant too be an add-on to my blog tour review of Turning Controversy into Church Ministry.  If you are not reading this because you clicked to it from there, you may not understand what this is about.
2nd Note (Edit): These points are tangential in nature to the main point of the book itself.  The rest of the book does not stand or fall with these stats. Also, please note W.P. Campbell's clarifying comments on the full review post.  


In the lead-up to this blog tour Engaging Church noted some staggering statistics listed in Campbell's book.  I did indeed find these statistics staggering.  He claims that 80% of pastors would find another job if they could and that 85% of pastors wives are depressed!  

Really?  I found those so staggering as to be unbelievable... so I did some source research.  Frankly, I am really hoping that this is all the result of some type error or something, but here goes. 

So far I have no idea where these statistics come from.  Campbell references pages 15-16 of Preventing Ministry Failure by Hoffmann and Wilson. But, on pages 15-16 of that book there is no such material. Instead there is a quiz on statistics, with answers on page 31, and none of the statistics given relate to pastors desiring other jobs nor depression in pastors wives.  


Later on in chapter one, Campbell accurately relates statistics on teen sexual behavior from an NCHS report, but presents them in a an alarmist fashion exactly the reverse of the content of the report. Campbell notes how high the stats on teenage sexual activity are but ignores the reports own notification that they have significantly decreased since the mid-90's.  


Immediately after this Campbell uses some data from a U.S. Census Bureau report to claim that the rate of cohabitation has risen 1000% between 1960-2000.  However, the report referenced does not indicate this at all. The report contains data from 1970 - 2000, not 1960, and at most indicates a 300% increase.  More detailed reports, available here, indicate an increase of slightly more than that in the period between 1977-1997.  These are all based on cohabitation as a percentage of the population.  If one takes a look at Just Living Together, on page 55, it is noted that the absolute numbers of cohabiting couples in the U.S. has increased by approximately 1000%, but the very sentence in which this figure is introduced points out that it is misleading for several reasons (not least off all due to the lack of reliable statistics on cohabitation before 1977). Further, Just Living Together is not referenced by Campbell at all.

The statistical and referential issues didn't end here, but my analysis will... All in all, I was sorely disappointed at the use of statistics and references in Turning Controversy into Church Ministry.

Don't get me wrong, the stats on teen sex and cohabitation are high.  But why the need for inaccurately relayed information and alarmist tone? And of course non-Christians will not live up to Christian moral standards. 

10.9.10

Q5: Experiencing Biblical Truth

Question: If you could experience one biblical truth in such a way that you always 'knew it', which one would you choose and why?



My favorite prayer in the bible has long been Paul's prayer from Ephesians 3:14-21
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with powerthrough his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the LORD's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

So, I think that I would have to choose the love of God.  Thinking about my life, and my relationships, it is love more than anything else which has affected me.  Knowing someone love me makes them a safe place to go, a desirable presence to share, a trusted person to talk to.  I know that these things are true of God, but I don't always live as if I knew that (so the knowledge is often more head than heart, more information than experience).  Knowing someone loves me changes my behavior towards them as well as towards others.  It motivates me to be loving back, and to be the kind of person that the loving individual wants me to be. Fully knowing, experiencing, the love of God would do these things to me as well.  It would motivate me to love others as sacrificially as Christ has loved me, and to be the kind of person God wants me to be.  Again, I know these things in my head, but I want to, and need to, experience them more. 


9.9.10

One of Those Days

It has been one of those days.  You know, the kind where things just seem to go wrong? A day when the things that do go wrong seem to bother and annoy you disproportionately? Yeah...

I have been fighting a cold for a while, and it seems to be getting worse. Last night was rough with Hannah, who now sleeps through the night, waking up several times and Ethan getting up earlier than normal.  I felt like I was up from 2-5 AM, even though I really was not. 

This morning I took our car in to Kal-Tire.  One of our tires had a slow leak and I wanted to get it fixed.  Turns out there was a screw in the tire.  But the appointment, which was supposed to take 60-75 minutes took over 3 hours.  Normally I wouldn't mention the company name in something like this, but I have to say that they handled it very well, with gracious customer service and quality care.  I was impressed with Kal-Tire, but highly annoyed at having to spend 3 hours at the mall.  I know, some of you would find that to be paradise, but I hate shopping. I brought books, finished them, read magazines, shopped, and just generally got frustrated.  I would have much rather spent the time at home. I was going to take Hannah to the park. All the thoughts of what could have been rose up to put me in a bad mood.

On the way home I needed to stop for groceries and lunch.  Groceries went fine, but have you ever spent 15 minutes waiting at the drive-in window behind 1 car? On the one hand, I sit there and kick myself for not going inside, and on the other I once again get overwhelmed with thoughts of what could have been.  

When I finally did get home, at 1:30, it was just in time to scarf down lunch and go to work... As I walked out the door I told my wife that I needed an attitude adjustment.  I was sullen, frustrated, tired, and resentful.  What I had planned for the morning had been thrown out the window.  You know what I mean. 

I knew that I was heading to work in a bad frame of mind, and that if I didn't get out of the funk it would affect not only the things I needed to get done but also the people I would be spending time with throughout the day.  I wish I could say that my statement, 'I need an attitude adjustment,' had been a prayer.  I did not intend it as such but, praise the Lord, he heard it as such.  

Kristina had left Tenth Avenue North's new CD in the player (thank you honey!).  So my trip began with these two songs:

By the time I was done worshiping my attitude had been adjusted.  The rest of my car ride to work was Good; filled with prayer, worship, and some creative ideas.  Thank you God!

This whole thing reminds of something I know but frequently forget: There are tried, tested, and true ways of conforming my mind and heart to God's will.  Worship, Prayer, Scripture, Solitude, Silence, and so much more. I just need to run to Him instead of wallowing in my self.  


Q4: The End... but not quite so soon

Question: What if you knew you were going to die in a month?

This question was added in response to Q2.  I think its interesting to think about this in contrast with dying tomorrow.  After all, if you are going to die tomorrow you don't really have much time.  But if you are going to die in a month, you have 30 days to consider.  Suddenly skipping sleep is no longer an option!  I also think this would be much harder to live through.  Having a day would be stressful enough, but I wouldn't have too much time to dwell on things.  Having a month...?

In a month, then, I would want to do a few things.  

First of all, the standard package: Visit family and friends around the country, spend quality time with family, go on some romantic dates with Kristina, read a good book or two, and enjoy the everyday. 

Secondly, what I would consider something akin to a faith package: share the gospel, pray, preach a powerful sermon or two, encourage the teens and young adults at BAC in their faith (as well as anyone else I come into contact with), and spend some quality time with God. 

Thirdly, and finally, I would add these things: write my book (which I would post for free online), increase my life insurance amount, go to a chocolate fountain dessert thing, preach the gospel in several public places (parks, squares, and so on), make videos for my kids, and thank God for the life he has given me.

What about you? Now you have a month before you die, what would you do with 30 days? 


8.9.10

Q3: Questioning God

Question: If you could ask God just one question, what would you ask?

The assumption behind this question must, I think, be this: if you could ask God just one question, and receive an immediate and complete answer which you understood, what would you ask?  I clarify because I believe in prayer.

Other than that I have a lot of trouble answering this question.  One part of me immediately fills up with all sorts of questions while another looks at each one of them and points out that they aren't important and that all I would want is God's presence and the experience of the fullness of His love.  Plus, if I was seeing God face to face while asking my question I am not sure I could actually vocalize it at all.  Walker Percy asked an interesting question in his book Lost in the Cosmos: Why was Moses tongue-tied and nervous about speaking in front of his fellow Egyptians, but completely free and at ease speaking with God? 

Anyway, I have to choose something, so I think I would ask this: God, could you explain to me the Trinity and all its ramifications, effects, ripples, images, and so on? 

I kind of feel like that is a way to cheat and ask God to explain everything, but there it is :) 

What would you ask God if you had just one question? 

7.9.10

Q2: The End is Near

Question 2: What if you knew you were going to die tomorrow? (also: What would you do if the world was going to end tomorrow?  What if tomorrow was your last day on earth?)

So many versions of that famous evangelism question: If you died tomorrow, where would you go? It is different, however, to ask the question in this form.  I think the point is to reflect on what I am doing today in light of the possibility of tomorrow being the end.  

One of my favorite answers to this is this quotation, falsely attributed to Martin Luther: "If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today." The reason I like this is because it reminds me that the actions we do and the lives we live are defined by more than simply the end results they bring.  I know, we live in a results driven society, and activities without tangible, measurable, immediate results are often devalued, but we can't actually judge our lives that way (at least, not and remain sane).  One of the things I have said before is that the ends never justify the means because their are no ends.  Even without bringing the religious perspective into it, the ripples which result from our actions move forward well beyond our ability to understand.  Not only that, but our lives carry forward into eternity (for good or for ill).  


That said, many of my actions are prefaced on the assumption that I will be around tomorrow.  So, if I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I would spend as much time with my family as I could, loving them and enjoying them.  These are the parts of my day I relish the most as it is.  But, I would still want to attend prayer meeting tonight as well.  I would definitely skip all my administrative duties as well as sleep. 


If I knew the world was going to end tomorrow my actions would be different still.  How could I not tell people? I know very well that most would take me for crazy, and I would do my best to allay such suspicions.  And everyone I convinced I would also get to tell people.  Of course, this is very much what I hope and try to do now, except that I am not spreading the news of tomorrow's end, I am spreading good news of Jesus Gospel.  Which is what I would really be sharing as I told people about the end of the world anyway :) 


If I knew that tomorrow was going to be my last day on earth, I would want to know what that means.  I am fairly certain that the author of the question intended it to mean that tomorrow I would proceed to my eternal home, however I do not believe my eternal home will be off the earth, but resurrected into the new heaven and new earth which will be joined together and filled with the glorious presence of God.  Given this background, the question makes me think of what might happen to take me off of the earth.  So, I would want to know why is tomorrow my last day on earth? Are aliens landing? Will I be abducted? Will the Starship Enterprise show up and beam me away?  And would my family and friends be coming with me?  I would await tomorrow with a mixture of excitement and dread, hope and fear, and I would stick close to my family, just in case.  


How about you? Pick any one of these three variations on the question and tell me: what would you do if you knew that tomorrow....? 



6.9.10

Q1: A Few of My Favorite Things

Question 1: What are a few of your favorite things?

I'm starting with this one because I just got back from Teen's Camp with our church (which was so good).  I am tired, and this question is fairly easy, so it works. But how many is 'a few'? :)

Let's start with the obvious answers: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  I know, churchy answers, but true nonetheless.  Next is, surprise surprise, my family: Kristina my wife, Hannah my daughter, and Ethan my son.  And after that would be the rest of my family: Mom, Dad, Grandparents, Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, In-laws, and so on.  In that vein, I would also include all of my friends.  But enough with people; after all, people are not 'things'!

So, a few of my favorite things.

Things I have: Books (the medium of my favorite hobby, see below).  My wolf blanket (a gift I received years ago, a fleece blanket with the picture of a wolf on it).  My computer (it does everything, how could it not make the list?)
Things I consume: Chocolate (Mmmm!), Steak (No meal is a meal without meat, and steak is the king of meats), "The Usual Suspects" (best movie ever, or at least the most entertaining), "Star Trek" (the first two are my favorite, but all of them are good.  Plus you can use them to explain culture shifts; how cool is that?)
Things I do: Reading (My favorite hobby, and I have a job that lets me do it even more :), Swimming (clears my mind, and its fun), Hiking (God's creation is so beautiful, and the effort that it takes to see some of it only makes the reward all the sweeter), time with friends and family (Don't need to say much here, except that I know a lot of awesome people). 

Nothing like starting with an easy one. What are a few of your favorite things? 

1.9.10

The Question Game

Have you ever played the question game? Your answer may depend on your relational status, as for me the question game was a dating/relationship game that has carried on into my marriage.  The rules are very simple: 1. You take turns asking each other questions.  2. The questions have to be reversible, that is the person you are playing with has to be able to ask you the same question and you have to answer. 3. You may ask derivative/follow-up questions, but they don't count as your turn.  4. You may, but do not have to, decide on a theme before you begin (e.g. "would you rather" or "favorites" or "childhood memories"). 5. Any person may refuse to answer a question, but if you do that question still counts as a turn.  

Last week I asked you for questions, and I now feel like I am going to spend a couple of weeks on my blog playing the question game.  This is a little bit strange considering the context this game has held in my life to date.  Nonetheless, I think it will be fun.  

Before I go on, let me say that you can still get your questions in to me if you want. Also, since this is becoming a question game, I invite you now (and will continue to invite you as I post on these questions) to offer up your own responses.  After all, the questions are supposed to be reversible. 

Even though there were not a ton of comments on my blog, between email, facebook messages, in-person conversations, and the comments I did get, I have received quite a few questions.  I think I will start the theme weeks, as there will be several,  next Monday.  In the meantime, below is a list of the questions I have received (in no particular order).  I have roughly categorized them, though some questions easily fit into more than one category.  



Personal:

What's one of the most memorable times of your childhood?
What would you most like people to remember you for after you die? What would you like written on your tombstone?

What is one book (besides the bible) that has had the greatest influence on your life? 
In your own life have you learned more from your failures or from your achievements and success?
If you could relive any part of your life what would it be and why?

What are a few of your favorite things? 


Philosophical
What if you knew you were going to die tomorrow? (also: what if tomorrow was your last day on earth? what would you do if the world was going to end tomorrow?)
What if you knew you were going to live tomorrow?
If your life could be whatever you wanted it to be, what would you change?
How do you know you have reached the 'when I grow up' stage?
How do you know you have learned something? 
How do you know something is true?


Wierd/Odd
What if you knew you were going away for the weekend?
If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be (assuming you could actually be healthy on such a diet)?

Theological/Biblical
If you could ask God just one question, what would you ask? 
If you could experience one biblical truth in such a way that you always 'knew it', which one would you choose and why?
If you could witness, or live through, one part of the bible, which would it be and why? (other than any part of Jesus life)
What are the biggest questions you have regarding your relationship with God? Have they been answered? If yes, how have those answers helped you? If not, how do you feel about them not being answered and how has that impacted your life and your view of God?
If God granted you one request what would you ask for and why? How will your request be viewed from others around you? (Or: if you had one wish, what would you wish for and what would others think of that wish?)
How would the world look if more people focused on truth rather than rejoicing at what's wrong?




So there you have it: my list of questions.  20 in total.  4 weeks of posts on this topic... Anyone got more question?   


Just asking for more makes me feel a little bit like a sucker, but I can't help it... :P