Chicken soup for the Giver’s Soul

 

I Like Giving - Brad FormsmaI Like Giving by Brad Formsma

The subtitle of the book is ‘Practical Ideas, Inspiring Stories’ and Formsma doesn’t disappoint on either count. I Like Giving is 210 pages of encouragement to engage generous giving as a lifestyle rather than viewing it through the lens of ten percent. The illustrative stories that compose the majority of the book do two things; they primarily give us inspirational stories retelling the giving experiences of the author and others but also provide insight into the long-term effects that giving can have as God works through the provision of others. It is the end-end result that we usually never get to see that is often the greatest benefit of a gift.

The book is a breezy read that will inspire you to take action, even it is just to pass the book on to someone else who might likewise be inspired. Formsma emphasizes that an important line needs to be crossed in our lives, transitioning from thought to action. It’s one thing to be inspired and have your heart warmed and yet another to be inspired, lace up your sneakers and go give. The biblical author James makes the same comment, saying “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?”

I’m grateful to WaterBrook Press who provided this book for review.

The Evangelist : In The Beginning

One: John 1:1-18

The fourth gospel writer, John, is moved by the Spirit to open his expansive book of Belief by tying it to a foundational theological tenet, In the beginning. Of all of the ways in which the majesty of God is revealed in the Bible, encountering Him as the Grand Initiator is one of the most important ways in which the relationship of human and divine is made comprehensible. God begins and our lives are the product of that initiative.

The first words of the Bible reveal an ever-existent God who creates all that exists, putting it in motion and unfolding His plan for its history. As the reader sees the logical progression of the perfect world unfolding in the order necessary for each successive step to prosper, we see the care and order in which the Initiator proceeds to fashion an existence without need for a Savior. As He arrives at the moment of creation for His greatest joy, man and woman, we are given a hint that God is not alone in this work, saying “Let us make man in our image..” To whom does He speak? Who is witness with Him to the creation and soon-to-come Fall?

John provides the answer most clearly; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Bearing witness to the creation and Fall that necessitates a Savior is the One who would be that Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only does God initiate the creation of all out of his love, desire and incomparable imagination, He also initiates its redemption and restoration to come. Apprehending this idea lies at the heart of our understanding of God and the Scriptures. God is first to act. Before humankind has even the briefest of notions about what it might need, He has acted to provide.

This is simultaneously humbling and comforting. It both mortifies our pride and wraps us in inexhaustible serenity as we apprehend the fact that just as we played no role in our creation, we also play no role in our salvation. It is wholly of the Great Creator, both in concept and in execution. We do nothing but celebrate the benefits and worship the provider who initiates before we know we have need.

image|magic madzik

Slow Your Roll

Enjoying the Gift of A Slower Pace of Change

slow

For those of us accustomed to a rapid rate of change, things should happen yesterday or at the latest, this afternoon. Finding oneself in a land where change occurs slowly can fool the pilgrim into believing that it isn’t occurring at all. Frustration and even thoughts of failure can ensue unless the eyes and heart are awakened by the Spirit to recognize the gift of the slower pace.

For a variety of reasons, ministry in a rural context moves a slower pace. Serving an agricultural region helps you to learn to appreciate a slower, more considerate pace to life. From the first seeds planted in the spring to the harvest in the cool of autumn, little can be forced or imposed on a field. The farmer must be observant and aware of how all of the components of life are interacting on a day to day basis and then respond when necessary to maintain the equilibrium needed to produce the harvest. Conditions change. Life intervenes. Any number of things must be kept in balance as the crop transforms slowly from fragile seedling to robust stalks of grain ready to be reaped.

Ministry in this context is going to occur at the same pace and any attempt to impose or force a faster pace is going to be doomed to failure. God’s people in this context are prepared to initiate change in the seed form but not in the planting of full grown specimens from the nursery. They will allow incremental change that can then be nurtured along and monitored, but radical-turn-things-upside-down change will be rejected. Leading change demands that you acknowledge and respect this.

The gift of the slower rate is in the increased success of the initiatives. A slower rate enables the careful consideration of the incremental steps rather than surveying the train wreck and then trying to go back and see where the engine slipped off the rails. It allows God’s people to acclimate to change at the same rate that they see God at work on the fields that surround them. It allows for greater glory in God’s name as His people celebrate the small successes along the way rather than the final big bang of the conclusion.

The ministerial gift is in allowing the Spirit to turn one’s internal dial back from 10 to 2. It allows the small steps and relaxed pace to allow you to look every more closely for where He is at work in the process. The greater gift perhaps is that it allows us to savor God’s pace of redemption in us as individuals and in the world as a whole. Where we might have liked to see the sanctification occur in full yesterday, in His economy it takes a lifetime.

Image courtesy Martin Deutsch

Facebook faith

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18

In the pre-Facebook age, it was the fish badge of the back of your car. It proudly proclaimed to the world that you were a Christian. Not so explicit that others would be offended, but a sign among friends that you belonged. It was there for those sharing the freeway with you–your mark of heaven—if they knew what it meant. You drove with your gleaming chrome talisman making the proclamation that you were different. You were a Christian. Until you weren’t.

Until you started weaving in an out of the traffic to gain that additional minute at Starbucks. Until you began to honk and yell at your fellow travellers who somehow impeded your progress. Until you blew the red light, the crimson reflection of the chrome fish making it stand out even more. Actions speak louder than words chrome fish badges.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:14-17

The Facebook era has taken the words and actions divide to a new measure. We find ourselves able to post moving devotionals or spiritual sounding statement emblazoned across HDR photographs, all with the intention of espousing our Christianity for others to see. And admire. And to think of us differently.  Like a fish badge that hundreds or thousands of people can see now, thinking that I’m serving God at a level to which others might aspire. Until you’re not.

Until the difference between your words and your actions is discovered. Until the soaring words or scripture verses that we had so carefully arranged over the inspiring photograph are discovered to bear little resemblance to our real life. Until our practice is shown to be far out of alignment with our proclamation. Until it is discovered that our discipleship is found to be but a peripheral part of our life, or worse, a faith of our own creation.

The Bible warns the Christian repeatedly not to be two-faced, the classic hypocrite. The Bible demands of the disciple that their be no seam between their proclaimed faith and the tableau of their lives. There is no option for the follower of Jesus to be one of mere intellectual assent, particularly one who screams of a depth of faith loud enough to be noticed by others and gain their recognition. To be liked. 345 thumbs up. But to be distant from a faith community. But to be divisive and withhold your gifts from the works of God.

The disciple of Jesus Christ is concerned with only one like. The disciple of Jesus Christ is not seeking the approval of other disciples, even less so the approval of other ‘Christians’. The disciple of Jesus Christ allows no division between any public words that they speak or publish and all of the actions that they take. Word and deed go hand in hand.

Unnatural HOLINESS

Holiness is a word and a subject that’s a part of our Christian vernacular. The Lord is holy. We have holy space. Our literature is filled with the word. So, define it. Right now.

I’ll wait……..

If you answer is in any way rules based, then you are in good company. In the modern Christian style guide holiness has become synonymous with following the rules so as to remain in God’s good graces. Whether it be the Commandments, any parts of the Levitical code  or even fashioning a rule book from the Sermon on the Mount or one of Paul’s sin lists, holiness, like a lot of Christian practice, has become a human-oriented and crafted practice. It is not a state of being. Rather, it has become a way of measuring how close to the boundary lines we are walking.

And that is to our detriment.

When holiness becomes adherence to the rules, we attempt to be holy under our own power and guidance. The Holy Spirit is left to His other duties and plays no role and the outcome is not the holiness of the Bible. It is a completely natural holiness, one that we have pressed and prodded into our own image.

The holiness of the Bible, on the other hand, is completely unnatural.

The holiness of the Bible is in no way possible within our fallen state. The state of holiness as declared by God is that of being fully set apart. Not in the Benedictine monastery sense of hiding within the safety of stone walls, tucked away from the influence of the world. Instead, the holiness of which the Bible speaks is a holiness in which His people demonstrate their radical set-apartedness while living within the culture and influencing it. The holiness of the Bible is demonstrated in radically living out the Great Commandment—loving God with all your heart, mind and soul and loving your neighbor in the same way. Loving others in such a sacrificial way that there is no natural explanation for your ability to do so. Loving others in such a way that the only possible explanation that those who are not yet God’s people can offer is divine intervention.

Holiness is an unnatural love. It is not the acquisitive love of the world: do for me and I’ll do for you. Holy love is I’ll do for you despite what you do to me or what you can do for me. The love of holiness demonstrates unequivocally that the Holy are set apart, that they have moved their existence to a different plane. The Holy are living a life of service in response to the magnitude of the Sacrifice, seeking to please the Sacrificer at every step; unconcerned with the approval of the world while loving those in that world at the same time. Holiness declares the divine power of the Spirit within rather than our human efforts to follow a rule book. Holiness is unnatural and unmistakable.

Time-Tested Principles

How God Makes Men by Patrick MorleyHow God Makes Men

Patrick Morley

When that moment of crisis arrives and men must make a decision that directs the course of the rest of their lives, will they make that decision on raw emotion or on deep-rooted principles? Men of God are shaped by Him in a variety of ways. Some, or all, of the principles that God uses may apply to you as Patrick Morley writes in How God Makes Men.

As you read the familiar biblical stories of the way in which God has shaped men through history you are sure to see yourself in at least one or two scenarios. Take Job, for example. Casual Bible readers will recognize the story of suffering but might fail to glean the purpose in that suffering. Morley takes men deeper into God’s purpose in Job to show that while it might appear that he suffered for no good reason, there existed a higher purpose to it. Might there be similar purpose in your life.

All of the men that Morley highlights are familiar and their stories well known. He isn’t providing biographical sketches, rather, he is directing our attention to the ways in which God worked in their lives. In doing so, he opens your eyes to the possibility that God might be working in much the same way in yours.

I’m grateful to Multnomah Books who provided this copy for review.

The Hidden Image of God

Taking advantage of a glorious winter day, with no wind and the snow having recently melted away, I returned to the hibernating yard to perform a bit of touch up. Leaves missed in the autumn raking gathered along the edges of the grass in intermittent piles, blending with the straw-colored lawn. As the rake clawed the leaves away, a beautiful sight was revealed; the grass protected by leaves from the cold and wind and the low winter sun was as green as deepest summer.

In each person lies the beauty of the image of God, the imago dei. Under perfect conditions it would be on display for all to see. Many people, however, hide it beneath protective layers, or worse, the muck and mire of the world. Receiving the gospel gift sets in motion the first stirring of the outer layers as the image within begins to be revealed. First one layer and then another, as the old is shaken off (Col 3:9). The gospel work continues to remove the covering, conforming the person to the likeness of their Archetype.