Blog Tour: "Your Church is Too Safe" by mark Buchanan

Mark Buchanan. Your Church is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-Down. Zondervan, 2012. 240 pgs. 

Mark Buchanan believes there is a visible gap between life in Jesus and the life we live, between the Church of Jesus and the churches we have. In his own words, "What happened? When did we start making it our priority to be safe instead of dangerous, nice instead of holy, cautious instead of bold, self absorbed instead of counting everything loss in order to be found in Christ?" This, then, is a book for those who wish the church looked more like the kingdom of God. 

What follows, then, are 18 chapters of pleas, stories, examples, and explanations of what it means to be the true church of Jesus Christ. Buchanan shares with us how Christ makes all things new, how Christ calls us to trust and work for healing and reconciliation and forgiveness and love, and how this will get us into trouble. 

A friend of mine commented that this book could be a bit of a jump over the shark tank (I didn't get the reference the first time he used it either; just google 'jump the shark thank'). I'm not sure about the marketing side of things, but as far as content goes this book is definitely not a grasp at success from the edge of failure. No, this book was quite good. It is filled with mature insight and wisdom, compelling biblical exegesis (of the pastoral, not academic, type), and a vision of what the church could be that ought to get any pastors heart beating faster. It may be that I feel particularly strong about this because the book lines up very well with some of the things I have been learning lately and many of the ideas we have been moving towards in our church, but either way I would definitely recommend this book. 

If I must critique then I will say this: the book lacks a clear line of thought or organization. I was always interested in what I was reading but I didn't always know how it connected or where Buchanan was going. 

Conclusion: 5 Stars. Recommended. This is a book worth reading, especially if your a pastor. 

Thanks to http://engagingchurchblog.com for allowing me to be part of this blog tour and providing the book for review. 


The Readers New Beginning: Heartbreaking Purple Tigers

Upon finishing my post-malazan period of readers mourning I took a moment to reflect on my reading over the past months. I reviewed my readers log (stardate 2178...) and realized that "The Malazan Universe" had entirely occupied the fiction portion of my reading for upwards of 6 months. In itself this was unsurprising; thirteen 1000+ page fiction books should take that long to read given how much time I devote to reading fiction. However, I also realized that I needed to now read something utterly different. Science fiction and Fantasy would have to be laid aside, at least for a time. 

But what else could I read? In the world of non-fiction, I have a seemingly never ending pile of books waiting on my desks, and an even longer list waiting on Amazon. In the world of fiction, not so much. And so I began to look at top lists: Pulitzer prizes, New York Times Best Sellers, etc. It didn't take long for me to come up with half a dozen books to start with and this list happily coincided with my trip to Portland, wherein lies the famed Powell's bookstore. To my delight, Powell's lives up to the hype. 

I am now three books in to my renewed reading list of fiction. 

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was witty and humorous and more pretentious than even the title led me to believe. I enjoyed it. 

Purple Hibiscus was moving and deep and peopled with powerfully real characters that drive the story far beyond its technical 'young adult/Teen' classification. More than worth the time; I will be reading more of Adichie. 

The Tiger's Wife was engrossing and a delight to read. It blended lived responses to war with  village mythology and folklore in a way that captivated me from start to finish. I hope that Tea Obreht writes more. 

Having finished these three books I have realized my goal: I am fictionally refreshed. By the time one reaches the end of over 15000 pages in one universe there is not only a sense of loss that the great epic is finished, there is also a sense of worn-ness, as if a specific part of this reader had been greatly depleted. I am grateful that these books are refilling that readers well, and that I am again drinking of fictional well of joy that comes with good art.  

I am looking forward to the rest of my carefully selected and odd (for me) novels.


Child Soldiers and Hunger Games

It has been hard, but I have resisted posting any response to the whole Kony2012 debacle. 

If nothing else, it made me take notice. With so many people making the point that raising awareness about child soldiers and world problems is a good thing, no matter what else we think of the video or InvisibleChildren, I decided that I should actually raise my awareness. That is to say, do something other than watch a 30 minute video which is mostly mistaken or lying. I bought, and read, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children by Romeo Dallaire (who founded the Child Soldiers Initiative; a much better way to get involved and help stop this serious problem). 

I know that I am still in the process of understanding all that Dallaire shares in his book. It broke my heart to learn what is going on in our world, what some children go through. And then something happened. 

The day I finished reading this book I saw a preview for "The Hunger Games." My first thought was 'I'm probably going to have to see that.' You see, I'm a youth pastor. One of my commitments as a youth pastor is to do my best to understand, appreciate, and critique youth culture. That means I listen to strange music, watch odd TV shows, read unusual books, and take in some interesting movies. Things like Glee, the Twilight Series, and the Hunger Games (which I read through last year). 

Later that night, as I lay in bed, it came to me that the book and the preview were related. They are about children, teenagers, being forced to kill. I suddenly realized that I was utterly wrong. I would not be seeing the Hunger Games; not now, maybe not ever. 

When I read the books I had enjoyed the first one (the second and third... not so much). I found it entertaining, if shallow. Collins captures well the "youtube" attitude of some people in a world where others are constantly watching. She does not capture at all how violence affects the psyche of the young, what being forced to kill does to people, or the devastation this would wrought in the lives of those involved. In fact, the entire series is so highly glamorized as to be utterly unreal (the precursor to Hunger Games, Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, is brutal rather than glamorized, and delves partially into what this kind of situation does). 

I started to wonder if The Hunger Games is only entertaining when one is ignorant of the truth of child soldiers. I knew, for myself, that I would not be able to watch it or read it again. If I did it would be with the images and descriptions given to me by Dallaire flashing through my mind. It would be while marveling at the fatuousness of what was before me and grieving the reality of what was not. 

And so I made a decision. I will not be seeing this movie. Instead, I have donated the money I would have spent seeing it ($20) to the Child Soldiers Initiative. I would urge you to do the same. The Hunger Games is guaranteed to be a blockbuster and still seeing it is not going to improve your life even a little. By missing it, however, you might improve the lives of a child somewhere.


Which of you, if his son asks for...

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?..."

And which of you, if his son asks for a pocketknife, will give it to him without first showing him how to use it safely?

If you know me in person your probably know that I usually have a pocketknife with me. In fact, if I have my jacket I will have a small multi-tool as well. I use them all the time and am often glad I have them. Thus, I fully intend for my children to have them as well (when they reach the appropriate age, of course). But I would be remiss, as a father, if I were to one day just hand my child a knife with nary a word of instruction or caution. Knives are tools. They are incredibly useful. Though they seem less and less necessary in our technological age I do think that the ability to properly use a knife is still an important skill to have. However, knives are also dangerous. They are dangerous if approached wrongly (as a weapon) or casually (as simple and safe). 

I plan, when the day comes, to start my children with small pocket knives; mini-swiss army type knives. I plan to walk alongside of them as they learn safety and use rules. I plan to make sure they know that you should always keep your knife sharp and you should always cut away from yourself. Though I am not perfect I plan to be a good father. 

How much more so our Father in Heaven? Have you ever considered that the Lord desires to answer your prayers, or gift you in ways that you cannot imagine, but you are simply not ready? That more training and preparation must occur before you can receive rightly that which the Lord has for you? This is but one of the reasons it is so important to listen in prayer as well as speak. How else can the Lord speak to you of how He wishes to shape you and change you for His purposes? This is but one of the reasons it is so important to reflect on your days and weeks past as well as simply live and plan into the future. How else can you discern and recognize the hand of God preparing you and shaping you through His providence and plan? 

I have heard it said that when you pray God may answer with a 'yes' or a 'no' or a 'not yet.' Of course this is a simplification; contained within each of those answers are varieties nigh on the infinite. One of them is "yes, but not until you are ready." 

Let us not forget that the Lord God is our good father who knows how to give good gifts and our good father who prepares us for the proper use of those gifts. Let us not fail to listen for His response, submit to His guidance, and watch for His hand. And let us remember that His grace extends far beyond our mistakes and far beyond our readiness. 


Rediscovering Sin: Pusillanimity

I thought I knew them all but I was wrong. I learned a new sin. Pusillanimity. Did I mention that I also learned a new word?

Technically, pusillanimity is the state of being timid or cowardly but Aquinas' definition is better: A shrinking from greatness out of littleness of soul. It is caused by an ignorance of one's own capabilities and by a fear of failure. For an example, we may turn to Moses at the burning bush. Moses would have been prideful to take up the leadership of God's people without tremble but equally prideful, and pusillanimous, to refuse the command of his Creator. 

For me, this learning came with power. What I mean is that it came with the power of a new category, a new explanation, a new understanding, and with the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Let me explain.

Shrinking from greatness caused by fear of failure? That's me. One of the characteristic fears in my life is a fear of failure. 

As a teenager I took kayaking lessons and joined a league. As with most sports, the season concluded with a tournament. I had been looking forward to it until, on the day of, I found out that a mistake had been made and I would be racing one class higher than my own. Failure was certain and so my eagerness became dread. Over the first half of the day, while other races took place, I literally made myself sick with fear. I threw up. I remember my mom asking me if I was really sick or if I was just worried about racing older boys. "No, I really am sick," I said. It would have been more truthful if I had replied "Yes, but I really am sick." I have no idea how I would have done, but I wish I had possessed the confidence and peace to take the unexpected in stride and to overcome my fear of failure. 

I have never again made myself sick with fear; but the fear has not gone away. The problem is that fear so often seems justified. Success is not guaranteed and so it makes sense to have a 'plan B.' But there is a line between right caution and fear. In fear I doubt what I know about myself (ignorance of my own capabilities) and I doubt what I know about God (both pride and pusillanimity). My sin is starkest in this: Even when it is God who calls, I do not move forward in confidence. 

I may shrink from risk rightly or wrongly and discerning which is true can be difficult. As a response, some level of fear, or at least trepidation, may be necessary. I say this because I do not want to label your fears as sin. May God convict you of the truth of things. My fear, however, often crosses the line.

When it comes to doubting God, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. The most common is this: To justify myself I frame my fear and my doubt as a doubt of whether or not God has called me to something. That way I can say to myself: "I am not doubting God, I am doubting my own ability to hear and understand God." Doesn't that seem so much more humble and accurate, coming from such a fallen, broken, sinful man? At times it is true. More often it is just a smokescreen to avoid obedience. 

I do not know where you stand but I stand convicted by the Spirit of pusillanimity. 

Learning this new category not only convicts me of sin but opens my eyes to the possibility of change. And so it is that I challenge you, and myself, to flee pusillanimity. Trust God. Grow in trusting God. 

Perhaps begin taking Sabbath each week. A whole day in which all your work in the world must survive without you, placed in the hands of God for safekeeping, in trust that when you return it will still be well. 

Or pray. Pray over something specific. Something secret, secret in that you tell no one and not in that you ought to confess it but have not, which you will place before the Lord and await His response.  

Whatever you do, wherever you stand, I pray that you and I would know and trust God, who He is, His power, and His calling, and stride forward in the confidence given us through Christ. And may we, in any new found confidence, not fall into the sin of pride in ourselves, but only trust in God. 


2012.03.04 Worth Visiting

TED Video: Hooked By OctopusThe earth is amazing, and Mike deGruy does a great job presenting some of it. 

TED Video: Impossible Photography - funny and interesting 'realistic' photo-shopping.

More Photo-Shopping - scary photo-shopping... Photos were unbelievable already...

Groupthink: The Brainstorming Myth - Does creativity come from relationship density and chance encounters? Is brainstorming effective at all?

The 'Undue Weight' of Truth on Wikipediaone of the many reasons wikipedia is not a reliable source of information; at least they are honest about it though...?

Interval Training is Enough - you don't have the excuses you thought you did!

Old Workshop by Jack Woolley - Very cool house

I'm Being Followed... - excellent article on identity and tracking on the web


February Reflections

Late again :)

I have decided I need to start doing two top 3 lists of posts. One will contain the 3 most visited posts which I put up in the last month (Top Three Posts of February) the other will contain the 3 posts which received the most visitors over the last month (Three Most Visited Posts of February). This month, however, I only posted 4 times and so a top 3 seems kind of pointless. Instead here is a top 1:

Top Post of February:
"Mere Apologetics" by Alister E. McGrath - My one book review of the month. Good apologetics resource. 

3 Most Visited Posts of February:
1. Heaven and Hell - Yep. There it sites. A monument to the power of google. 
2. We're Sinking - It seems most people find this for reasons unrelated to the actual content of the post. I wonder what such people think? Do they read it? Or browse and leave? 
3. Pull Up a Chair... - I really enjoyed doing this activity with some of our youth. One of them even testified to its influence during his recent baptism. I also enjoyed writing about it. But I am not sure why more people viewed this post in the last month than in all the other months since it was posted. 

As you may have guessed, what with 4 posts in an entire month, February was busy. Very busy. One of our pastors is on vacation and therefore I had a bit of extra work to do. I also had lots of meetings at the leadership level as we both finished our visioning process and prepared for the AGM, and an out of town conference (The Justice Conference) to top it all off. Busy, but also good. The renewed vision for our church has been very encouraging and while I know we have barely begun (the hard work is, after all, implementation) I am encouraged. The Justice Conference was amazing, well worth the time, and a weekend away with my wife and without our children was really fun. 

God is good. May you taste and see this truth in your own life as well. 


The Readers End: Malazan Tales of the Fallen

There is no good time to reach the end of a book. If the book was bad you should not have finished it. If the book was good you will wish it had not ended.

If there is no good time to finish a book there are even fewer good times to finish a series. And woe to he who reaches the end of a ten book series which has been years in the reading and re-reading. Indeed, one mourns. I do. 

For some people the quality of the writing ceases to matter somewhere between the 3rd and 5th book of any series. The flawed gamblers logic of "I've already invested so much" takes over and momentum alone carries us through to the end. I have never been such a one and so, in agony, I have left behind me a ragged trail of unfinished series. Yet when a series is good enough to hold my interest the agony I experience, through my own foolishness, has often been no less. I keep starting series before they are completely written and so I face the specter of uncertainty as I await with eagerness and dread the next installment. Thus it was that years ago I formed a policy: I shall begin no series until it has been ended. 

I have held to this policy from that day until this with but one fatal exception. I received a book (dare I call it a snare?) as a gift (and a curse). Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson. With the innocuous subtitle "A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen" I falsely assumed that here was a story found within a common universe, rather than part one of a projected ten part series, and I dove in. Gardens of the Moon was amazing so I looked up the author. At that point, in 2004, four books in the series were published, the fifth was effectively moments away, and so the series was half finished. Now, 8 years later, I have re-read the first 5 books of this series 4 times, the next two 3 times, the 8th book I have read twice, and the last two only once. As I closed the last page of the last book I was at a loss. Post-book mourning multiplied to be nigh unbearable.

Allow me a few words about the series. They are, to put it mildly, not for the faint of heart. Nor are they for everyone. They are gritty fantasy books which are purposefully subversive in ways that anyone not well versed in fantasy literature (of all sorts:the so called 'high' and 'low', good and bad, new and old, and the many shifts which the genre has undergone over the years) may miss. They are adult in that they cut away many fantasy tropes designed to make worlds more acceptable and escapist, as well as for their content; barbarians are both noble and barbaric, war is glorious and gruesome, and people are virtuous and sinful. Though each book tops 1000 pages (in pocket book format) they are written like short stories. What I mean is that they are dense, packed with meaning and connections, and do not do well if read with the speed and attention one might give a normal novel. Starting this series before it was finished has been a blessing in disguise; the numerous rereads allowed me to glean and understand so much more within the series. Still, many readers do not get through, or past, the first book. Rightly so. From the word 'go' the reader is dropped into a world, a story, and a set of characters which are all fully formed and in motion. I, myself, actually received Gardens of the Moon a few years before I read it through. The first time I tried to read it I was young (18) and found the sheer number of characters too daunting to be worth the effort. When I finally did read it, it was because I had ran out of books and didn't feel I should spend money on a new work of fiction when I had a few stragglers lying around my shelves which I had never gotten around to reading. Gardens of the Moon just happened to be the one I picked up.

That said, this series is certainly one of the best works of fantasy I have ever read. The number of characters for which I cared, the new perspectives I was given, the questions I was asked, and the stories which I was told were well worth it. As I finished it, a new kind of agony, filled with eagerness and doubt, set upon me. Will I read its like again?

There are no more appropriate words to end this post than those with which  Steven Erikson ended this series:

"And now the page before us blurs.
An age is done, the book must close. 
We are abandoned to history. 
Raise high one more time the tattered standard
of the fallen. See through the drifting smoke
to the dark stains upon the fabric. 
This is the blood of our lives, this is the
payment of our deeds, all soon to be 
We were never what people could be. 
We were only what we were. 
Remember us." 


Children Are Waiting...

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." - James 1:27

A few weeks ago I came across this article about the crisis within the foster care system in Canada. I felt sad and I prayed. Then, this weekend, I went to the justice conference and one of our speakers asked a question. He pointed to the american foster care system and noted that there were more children needing care than foster parents to care for them. Then he asked the question: "Why, if the religion God finds pure and faultless is to care for widows and orphans, are there so many orphans in our country with no one to care for them? Why, in a nation with millions of Christians, are there children going uncared for and how can this make us look like anything but hypocrites?" And my mind flipped back to this article, and I realized that we in Canada are in the same place. Overcrowded, underfunded, and filled with marginalized children, our system looks the same. But where are the Christians who heed the words of James?

Dare we ask about the situation of the world as a whole? 

When will we take these words of scripture seriously? 

Several years ago at a youth conference my wife and I began sponsoring a chlid through Compassion. I don't know if you could be a foster parent, or adopt a child, or in some other way care for widows and orphans. Find a way. Somehow, obey this word from James. And as you do, seek to stretch to obey it more and more. One place to start is with sponsoring a child through an organization like Compassion

You could begin here, or you could begin with your local adoption agency (in B.C. go here) but whatever you do begin somewhere.