Posts on Christian mission, ministry and service in God’s world.
Posts on Christian mission, ministry and service in God’s world.
If you had to pick five words to describe the Christian life, would these make your list: wonder, whimsy, beauty, magic, adventure? These five elements are bursting at the seams of Joel N. Clark’s new book Awake: Discover the Power of YOUR Story.
I haven’t encountered a book like Awake before – I could call it a Christian adventure memoir, but it’s more. In Awake author and filmmaker Joel N. Clark shares stories that challenged him to live a bigger story, one suffused with wonder and deeply connected to God. As Joel reveals in this exclusive interview, he believes God created all of us to live that way, pursuing Him “fully awake.”
Read on as Joel discusses what we stand to gain if we accept the “fully awake” challenge. -Adam Forrest, Zondervan
ZBLOG: You write that you want to live “fully awake.” What does a fully awake life look like?
JOEL: For much of my life I’ve heard pastors say, “God is not just found in the four walls of the church, but he’s found in our places of work, in our homes and in our daily lives.” Yet for many years my relationship with God came down to the times I prayed, read the Bible, worshiped (which usually meant singing) and went to church. This was the entirety of my relationship with God and therefore I was bored with him and all things Christian.
Living “fully awake” is about more than finding God in the midst of ALL of my story. It’s about experiencing him fully, his pleasure, his heart and his presence in the midst of every part of it. This is something that doesn’t come naturally, but he is speaking and acting constantly throughout the day.
When I am “fully awake” I am able to see and hear him in all of it and my life is filled with wonder, beauty and magic, even in the seasons of pain and heartache.
ZBLOG: In Awake you recount many of your adventures, and some are quite dangerous! Some readers may be tempted to say, “Joel is just addicted to danger” – but you claim you’ve never been an adrenaline junkie.
So, what is it that drives you?
Our late friend, Chuck Colson, relates how some prisoners he knew reacted to the gospel. Excerpt from The Faith: Given Once for All by Colson and Harold Fickett.
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:40–43
Chuck Colson sketches the joy at the heart of the Gospel in this excerpt from The Faith: Given Once for All by Colson and Harold Fickett.
God is. And He’s told us how His world works. He is the ultimate reality. Why then is there suffering? Because God gave humans free will. We chose not to obey, so evil came to the world.
God invaded earth in His Son… The Holy Spirit was sent to finish the invasion, establishing Christ’s Kingdom through His body, the Church.
Satan’s control didn’t stand, however. God invaded earth in His Son. The battle raged, and the Son was arrested and executed, as the payment for evil. But the stone was rolled away, and God raised Him from the dead, and with His resurrection guaranteed our own new life. The Holy Spirit was sent to finish the invasion, establishing Christ’s Kingdom through His body, the Church.
The church may depend on gender stereotypes more than God does.
Yesterday the Her.meneutics blog (Christianity Today's blog for women) posted about Margaret Feinberg's experience of pursuing God. This is a topic which Margaret has discussed with great insight in Zondervan Bible studies such as Pursuing God's Beauty and Pursuing God's Love, and in her recent book Hungry for God.
The Her.meneutics blog asked Margaret if her view of pursuing God is related to her view of gender. Margaret replied, "My personality informs [my spirituality and experience of God] far more than gender ever could."
Then Margaret added something that has Twitter abuzz:
Gender often remains an acceptable way to stereotype people in the church. I think we're all made in God's image—God's beautiful, breathtaking, complex image and it is good.
Margaret goes on to discuss how male leaders and local churches can encourage women to use their gifts in ministry. If you're interested, I recommend you read the post on the Her.meneutics blog.
Do you feel like your church views you as a gender stereotype? Share your thoughts in a comment on this post.
As a youngish man, I don't feel like my local church has stereotyped me too badly. For every Wild Game Dinner, they also host a film discussion (which is more my speed). I realize this isn't everyone's experience and I'd like to hear yours.
- Adam Forrest, Zondervan
Learn more about her book Hungry for God.
(This post does not represent the views of Zondervan or any of its representatives. The writer's opinions are their own, and are shared for information purposes only. To receive new blogposts in your reader or email inbox, subscribe to Zondervan Blog.)
Excerpt from Jim Cymbala's new book Spirit Rising: Tapping into the Power of the Holy Spirit.
When God's Spirit moves, his purposes are revealed and accomplished in ways that no committee, personality test, or computer program could ever figure out.
D. L. Moody is a great example of that. No one ever would have expected him to be one of the greatest evangelists of all time. Moody was initially a shoe salesman and basically uneducated. He was a short, overweight man and not very good-looking. He had a slight speech impediment and a rapid-fire delivery when he spoke.
From a cartoon of D. L. Moody, dated 1875.
After he became a Christian, he started working with children on the streets of Chicago, working with the YMCA, and later handing out tracts during the Civil War. Though he never went to seminary, his work bore fruit, and eventually he was invited to England to preach.
While he was there, well-trained, velvet-tongued pastors sat in amazement at his preaching. Many of their churches were dead, and the kingdom wasn't being extended. But along came Moody, and the crowds followed. Despite his limitations, God’s blessing was evident. The guy couldn’t even pronounce Daniel correctly. He said Dan'l. And more difficult names like Nebuchadnezzar? Not even close.
A man known only by Mr. Reynolds once described the first time he met Moody:
The first meeting I ever saw him at was in a little old shanty that had been abandoned by a saloon-keeper. Mr. Moody had got the place to hold the meeting in at night. I went there a little late: and the first thing I saw was a man standing up, with a few tallow candles around him, holding [a young African-American boy], and trying to read to him the story of the Prodigal Son; and a great many of the words he could not make out, and had to skip. I thought, If the Lord can ever use such an instrument as that for his honor and glory, it will astonish me. After that meeting was over, Mr. Moody said to me, "Reynolds, I have got only one talent: I have no education, but I love the Lord Jesus Christ, and I want to do something for Him: and I want you to pray for me." I have never ceased from that day to this, morning and night, to pray for that devoted Christian soldier.
In a sense, Moody was nearly semiliterate. I once saw a letter written by Moody that was reproduced in Love Them In: The Life and Theology of D. L. Moody, by Stanley N. Gundry. Any sixth grader could do better. There were no capital letters, and commas and periods were few and far between. He would have been laughed at today when we judge ministry by slickness of delivery style and not by spiritual power. Yet this man preached to millions of people with no sound system and became one of the best-known evangelists in the history of Christianity. He led thousands to the Lord and went on to found three schools and a university.
We're not all called to be a D. L. Moody. But regardless of how we're set apart, it is God's responsibility to equip us… Sometimes the work encompasses world-changing missions, such as that of Moody. At other times, the work is much more personal and closer to home…
Just as each member of the human body functions differently from the others, the Spirit energizes each of us in the body of Christ to fulfill God's purpose. Without the Spirit's power being exercised, we tend to sit on the sidelines, inactive and unfulfilled. Worse, we are tempted to critique those actually "in the game" trying to proclaim Christ and serve his people. Anyone can criticize the efforts of another believer, but at the judgment seat of Christ, we will answer for ourselves only, not another…
Christ didn't die on the cross so that we would spend our time as Christians on earth merely sitting around waiting for his return. Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few" (Matt. 9:37). The reason for the shortage today is that too few are yielded to the Spirit whom Christ sent to us. But there's still time, and we have a patient, merciful Savior on our side.
Who knows how God can use you if you step out in faith and let the Holy Spirit take control? We're not called to be spectators watching from the stands as the prince of darkness goes about to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Jesus said there is a shortage of workers, but the actual work will be done by God's Spirit through you and me doing things beyond our wildest imagination. It all begins when you offer yourself to serve.
And then we can pray the prophet Isaiah's prayer, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isa. 6:8).
– Jim Cymbala (@jimcymbala)
Learn more about Spirit Rising
(Image & some styling above are web-exclusive features not included in the text of Spirit Rising. Image attribution: "Prayer and Praise," a Vanity Fair "Spy" Print of D.L. Moody, dated April 3, 1875; courtesy darvillsrareprints.com. This post does not represent the views of Zondervan or any of its representatives. The writer's personal opinions are shared only for information purposes. To receive new Zondervan Blog posts in your reader or email inbox, subscribe to Zondervan Blog.)
Blaine Hogan’s UNTITLED: Thoughts on the Creative Process is a declaration of war against the blank page.
In this interview with long-time creator Blaine (Creative Director at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL) you will get a taste of his insights on attacking the blank page, executing vision, getting more out of contemplation, and as Blaine writes, “creating beauty from the inside out.”
Full disclosure: Blaine’s UNTITLED eBook isn’t published by Zondervan, but I believe you creators (writers, pastors, teachers, worship leaders, and artists of all stripes) will be encouraged and empowered by Blaine’s perspective. I look forward to hearing your comments! -AF
ZBLOG: In UNTITLED you ask, “Is there anything in my work I love so much I would eat it?” That’s my first question: What are you hungry for?
BLAINE: Movement. Heart movement. In myself first and then in an audience. I’m starving for and always on the lookout for something that I find deeply moving. As I continue to explore this discipline of the creative process, I find that the more I can discipline myself to being open and to exploring various corners of things, the chances for finding things in this vein dramatically increase. And when I find something that moves me, I want to eat it. I want to internalize it, through the lens of my own story — then I want to figure out the best way to tell it.
ZBLOG: You support artistic “fringe exploration” and “rebellion,” but you also observe, “sometimes artists get so carried away with their rebellion they begin to wage war with their own center of gravity.” What is your center of gravity? And how do you recommend other artists stay centered?
BLAINE: Put simply, the continually refining work of Christ in my life. I grew up Catholic so I find myself repeating the Lord’s Prayer throughout the day without even knowing it. For me this has always been centering. Contemplation is another thing I use to stay centered. Probably everyone reading this works in a fast paced environment, and the opportunity for silence and meditation I imagine is rare. However, if we aren’t quiet, I’m not sure we can stay centered. When we stop we recognize our breath — something we didn’t “work” to do. It just happens. This is the cosmic mystery of Christ within us. We center ourselves when we stop.
ZBLOG: A good number of people I know, both non-Christians and Christians, believe that creative thinking and doctrinal thinking are at loggerheads. Do you see a tension between the artist’s work and the theologian’s? Or can Michaelangelo and Martin Luther sit at the same table?
I picked up How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens and dared author Michael Williams to show how the Book of Joel focuses on Jesus. This is what I found in Williams’s book. -AF
Give me what I deserve! We all might want to think twice about demanding that, because what we think we deserve might diverge significantly from God’s judgment on the matter.
The prophet Joel ministered during the time when a severe drought and locust plague were crippling the land. God’s people had evidently assumed that divine blessing was their right, no matter how corruptly they lived. But God reminded them by means of these natural disasters that abundant life was realized only in relationship with him. When that relationship was ignored or allowed to fade, then the protective barriers against death and destruction were lowered and the enemies of life could charge in. In Joel, this phenomenon is called “the day of the Lord.” It is a day when the consequences of turning away from God and the need for his salvation are realized.
Joel reminded them that when … they unplugged themselves [from God, the life-generating power source], it wouldn’t take long before things in their lives got awfully dark.
God’s people were looking forward to the day of the Lord as a day when God would judge all those other people who had rejected him and gone their own way. It was hard to come to terms with the fact that God’s judgment could include them as well. They needed to return to him and recommit themselves to their relationship with him in order for there to be any rescue from the dangers that stalked them down the dark alleys they had taken. So Joel called for fasting, prayer, and mourning (2:12). For God’s people the good things of life would not come about because they were somehow better than other people, but because they were plugged into the unfailing, life-generating power source. Joel reminded them that when by their faithlessness they unplugged themselves, it wouldn’t take long before things in their lives got awfully dark.
Joel saw in the immediate disasters of drought and locust plague vivid reminders of the coming day of the Lord when God’s judgment would be amplified to a global scale. Everyone on earth would come to a place called “Jehoshaphat,” which means “the Lord judges” (3:2, 12). The ultimate day of the Lord is coming when comprehensive and final divine judgments will overwhelm mankind like a colossal tsunami and make the devastating drought and locust plague of Joel’s day seem like minor inconveniences. Then, too, the only island of life in a sea of death and destruction will be found in relationship with God.
The prophet Joel, from an 18th-century Russian icon.
The apostle Peter quoted from Joel’s prophecy on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:17–21), indicating that Jesus’ death on the cross was our day of the Lord, when God’s judgment for our disobedience was experienced on our behalf by our sinless representative. Joel told God’s people of his day that the disasters they were experiencing were the natural result of abandoning God, and their effect was intended to remind them that their life was found in God alone.
On the coming final day of the Lord, when all nations will gather before the Lord for judgment, the one and only criterion that will hold any sway before the Judge of all the earth will be relationship with him. Those who have such a relationship through faith in Jesus Christ will enjoy the life that flows from that relationship. Those who don’t have such a relationship will experience the dire consequences. Jesus experienced those dire consequences so that all who come to the Father through faith in him can be assured of life. He is the one who will do the judging on the day of the Lord, and he knows the sheep that belong to him [see Matthew 25:31-32].
Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. The day of the Lord is coming. Joel sees “multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision” (3:14). Those who decide to turn to God for life through faith in his Son will have nothing to fear on that day. They will be safe and secure inside the stronghold of his love (3:16). Why would anyone choose plan B?
To experience [a foretaste of the restoration of all things], we have to make sure our chairs are scooted up to the table of God’s grace.
Believers today live between “days of the Lord.” Jesus has already experienced our day of judgment and has enabled us even now to enjoy a foretaste of the restoration of all things that will take place when he returns again on the final day. To experience that foretaste, however, we have to make sure our chairs are scooted up to the table of God’s grace. Only in our relationship with the source of life can we expect to realize true life for ourselves. We can only really live when we live together with him…
We may look forward to the day of Christ’s return with confidence that he has paid the price for our sin. But more than that, we may look to our Lord for life. As long as we are trusting in him, we will never be disappointed and we will never have to fear. Instead of the day of the Lord being a “dreadful” time for us (2:11), it will be a time of rejoicing, of fruitfulness, and of security (2:19–27)…
There are many who are hoping that their lives will have been “good” enough to merit a pass on the day of judgment. Others are waiting for the day to come when they can finally experience life. Some are just trying not to think about the coming day of judgment. How easy it is to resolve all of these concerns about that day through faith in Jesus Christ! Jesus offers us his own righteousness to replace our blameworthiness, unshakable joy to replace our circumstantially determined happiness, and justifiable confidence in him to replace our justifiable doubt in ourselves. The day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision (3:14). Let’s decide for life in Christ.
Want to know more about reading the Bible through the Jesus lens? Watch the discussion with author Michael Williams.
Learn more about Dr. Williams’s book, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens.
-Adam Forrest, Zondervan
(Images & some styling above are web-exclusive features not included in the text of How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens. Image attribution: By 18 century icon painter (Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Russia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. This post does not represent the views of Zondervan or any of its representatives. The writer’s personal opinions are shared only for information purposes. To receive new Zondervan Blog posts in your reader or email inbox, subscribe to Zondervan Blog.)
Excerpt from John Ortberg's The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God's Best Version of You.
When a young shepherd boy named David was preparing for battle against Goliath, King Saul stepped in to help. But he made the mistake we so often make in other battles: He figured that whatever would be helpful to him would also be helpful to David. So King Saul — who stood "head and shoulders" above every man in Israel — dressed up David in his own tunic and armor, crowned him with his helmet, and armed him with his sword. David "tried walking around" in them, the Bible says, but it was no use. Saul was a size 52 long and David was a 36 regular. Saul was a warrior; David was a shepherd. Saul was a man; David was a teenager. The very things that would help Saul in a battle would only hinder David…
Fortunately, David had enough self-awareness and courage to name the problem. "I cannot go in these," David said, "because I am not used to them." David had to set aside Saul's equipment and use what would help him — a sling, some stones, and nimble feet — and Saul ended up sending David with the best help he could give: "Go, and the Lord be with you."
"Saul was a warrior; David was a shepherd… [Sometimes we] are like David, trying to walk around in Saul's armor." -John Ortberg
The greatest battle of life is spiritual. It is the struggles with resentment and anger and greed and superiority that keep me from living in the flow with God. How often in spiritual life do we get burdened because we try to wield weapons that have helped someone else in the battle? We hear about how someone else prays, or reads Scripture to start or end their day, or worships, or studies, or serves — and we feel guilty if we don't do the same. We get frustrated because what works for someone else is not helpful to us. We are like David, trying to walk around in Saul's armor…
The key is not treating every [person] alike; it is finding the unique conditions that help each [person] grow…
Our great model for this is God himself, for he always knows just what each person needs.
He had Abraham take a walk, Elijah take a nap, Joshua take a lap, and Adam take the rap.
He gave Moses a forty-year time out, he gave David a harp and a dance, and he gave Paul a pen and a scroll.
He wrestled with Jacob, argued with Job, whispered to Elijah, warned Cain, and comforted Hagar.
He gave Aaron an altar, Miriam a song, Gideon a fleece, Peter a name, and Elisha a mantle.
God is a hand-crafter, not a mass-producer.
Jesus was stern with the rich young ruler, tender with the woman caught in adultery, patient with the disciples, blistering with the scribes, gentle with the children, and gracious with the thief on the cross. God never grows two people the same way. God is a hand-crafter, not a mass-producer.
Now it is your turn. God has existed from eternity — but he has never had a relationship with you before. He wants to do a new thing with you. The problem many people face when it comes to spiritual growth is that they listen to someone they think of as the expert — maybe the pastor of their church — talk about what he does, and think that is what they are supposed to do. When it doesn't work for them — because they are a different person! — they feel guilty and inadequate; they often give up.
Trying to grow spiritually without taking who you are into account is like trying to raise children on an assembly line. If you train an 80-pound gymnast and a 300-pound linebacker exactly the same, you will end up with two useless 190-pound people.
What, then, do I need to know to learn how God wants to help me grow? … Here is a question: What do you do that makes you feel fully alive?
(Images & some styling above are web-exclusive features not included in the text ofthe Me I Want to Be. Image attribution: painting c. 1897, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. This post does not represent the views of Zondervan or any of its representatives. The writer's personal opinions are shared only for information purposes. To receive new Zondervan Blog posts in your reader or email inbox, subscribe to Zondervan Blog.)
Excerpt from Grace Notes: Daily Readings with Philip Yancey (eBook).
Taking God’s assignment seriously means that I must learn to look at the world upside down, as Jesus did. Instead of seeking out people who stroke my ego, I find those whose egos need stroking; instead of important people with resources who can do me favors, I find people with few resources; instead of the strong, I look for the weak; instead of the healthy, the sick. Is not this how God reconciles the world to himself? Did Jesus not insist that he came for the sinners and not the righteous, for the sick and not the healthy?
People often look upon [Jean] as mad…
The founder of the L’Arche homes for the mentally disabled, Jean Vanier, says that people often look upon him as mad. The brilliantly educated son of a governor general of Canada, he recruits skilled workers (Henri Nouwen was one) to serve and live among damaged people.
Vanier shrugs off those who second-guess his choices by saying he would rather be crazy by following the foolishness of the gospel than the nonsense of the values of our world. Furthermore, Vanier insists that those who serve the deformed and damaged benefit as much as the ones whom they are helping. Even the most disabled individuals respond instinctively to love, and in so doing they awaken what is most important in a human being: compassion, generosity, humility, love. Paradoxically, they replenish life in the very helpers who serve them.
In India I have worshiped among leprosy patients. Most of the medical advances in the treatment of leprosy came about as a result of missionary doctors, who alone were willing to live among patients and risk exposure to study the dreaded disease. As a result, Christian churches thrive in most major leprosy centers.
In Myanmar, I have visited homes for AIDS orphans, where Christian volunteers try to replace parental affection the disease has stolen away. In Jean Vanier’s center in Toronto, I have watched a scholarly priest lavish daily care on a middle-aged man so mentally handicapped that he could not speak a word. The most rousing church services I have attended took place in Chile and Peru, in the bowels of a federal prison. Among the lowly, the wretched, the downtrodden, the rejects, God’s kingdom takes root.
“The most rousing church services I have attended took place in Chile & Peru, in the bowels of a federal prison. Among the lowly … God’s kingdom takes root.”
(Image & some styling above are web-exclusive features not included in the text of Grace Notes. Image attribution: By MicheleLovesArt (Van Gogh Museum – Tree-roots, 1890) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. This post does not represent the views of Zondervan or any of its representatives. The writer’s personal opinions are shared only for information purposes. To receive new Zondervan Blog posts in your reader or email inbox, subscribe to Zondervan Blog.)