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Rachel’s book is now available!

On a happy note: fellow dog lover, co-blogger and fiction writer Rachel Mankowitz announced today that her first book is out on Amazon! I am so excited for her ! Please check out her new title and share the link with your friends – available as Kindle or paperback. I’d love to see her first foray into self-publishing be a huge success!!! The direct link is here in her post:


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They Like Jesus …

I’ve had quite a bit of time on my hands of late. Good and bad, one of the good things being that I’m catching up on a lot of reading I have been wanting to do.

I just finished reading Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus But Not the Church this morning, and the thoughts churning in my head have also been making my stomach churn because what I was reading is all true. And I hate that it’s true, but I have close relatives who stay more than arms’ length away from church and “organized religion” because of various bad experiences they have had with the church – not with Jesus mind you, but with people who are supposed to represent Him in this world. How awkward might you suppose this gets for me whose full-time vocation is serving as ministry staff? Ya know, in the church.

So today, with all that’s running around in my head about my calling, my faith, my life situation, my own experiences, I must needs process it all for awhile.

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The Bible Jesus Read

I’ve had Philip Yancey’s The Bible Jesus Read on my “must read list” for several years now and finally found a copy at a yard sale last summer. I finished reading it several days ago, but I’m still agog and absorbing all of the insights the author shares with regard to the Psalms, Job and the books of the prophets. I’m actually re-reading each section of the book again more in depth because it’s that good. To meditate on the the whole book at once would be overwhelming, not to mention really, really long for blog book review purposes, so I may add more reviews on different sections as I get a fuller understanding through meditation about each part. But for now, I’ll focus on the section on the Psalms.

I love Philip Yancey’s section on the Psalms because I had felt, as he did, that the Psalms seemed to be a jumble of poems that sing praises to God one minute and then all of a sudden you hit a slew of angry or despondent ones that just seem to throw you off and you can’t help but wonder what’s up with that and why are these in the Bible??? What the author points out is that reading the Psalms is like “reading over someone’s shoulder” and that “they are personal prayers in the form of poetry written by a variety of people – peasants, kings, professional musicians, rank amateurs – in wildly fluctuating moods.” Understanding that they were written as “letters to God” and that God alone was the intended audience, not other people, helps. He adds that even “psalms for public use were designed as corporate prayers” with God as the primary audience.

Psalms gives examples of “ordinary” people struggling mightily to align what they believe about God with what they actually experience. Sometimes the authors are vindictive, sometimes self-righteous, sometimes paranoid, sometimes petty.

Also, I found it very helpful that he points out that only a minority of the psalms focus on praise and thanksgiving and that close to seventy percent take the form of laments. Which of course begs for a definition of “lament,” which he explains:

King David specifically ordered that his people be taught how to lament (2 Samuel 1:18). The “lament” in Psalms has little in common with whining or complaining. We whine about things we have little control over; we lament what we believe ought to be changed. Like Job, the psalmists clung to a belief in God’s ultimate goodness, no matter how things appeared at the present, and cried out for justice. They lamented that God’s will was not being done on earth as it was in Heaven; the resulting poetry helped realign their eternal beliefs with their daily experience.

He quotes Christian counselor Dan Allender as follows:

To whom do you vocalize the most intense, irrational – meaning inchoate, inarticulate – anger? Would you do so with someone who could fire you or cast you out of a cherished position or relationship? Not likely. You don’t trust them – you don’t believe they would endure the depths of your disappointment, confusion … The person who hears your lament, and far more bears your lament against them, paradoxically, is someone you deeply, wildly trust .. The language of lament is oddly the shadow side of faith.

Throughout the chapter, Philip speaks of the Psalms as “spiritual therapy” and that:

…[T]he Psalms offers a helpful pattern of expressing rage that the church often tries to repress. “Bear it up; keep smiling; suffering makes you strong,” say some spiritual advisors – but not the psalmists. They do not rationalize anger away or give abstract advice about pains; rather, they express emotions vividly and loudly, directing their feelings primarily at God.

The 150 psalms presents a mosaic of spiritual therapy in process. Doubt, paranoia, giddiness, meanness, delight, hatred, joy, praise, vengefulness, betrayal – you can find it all in Psalms. Such strewing of emotions, which I once saw as hopeless disarray, I now see as a sign of health. From Psalms I have learned that I can rightfully bring to God whatever I feel about Him. I need not paper over my failures and try to clean up my own rottennes; far better to bring those weaknesses to God, Who alone has the power to heal.

Later, he goes on to say:

I am continually amazed by the spiritual wholeness of the Hebrew poets, who sought to include God in every area of life by bringing to God every emotion experienced in daily activitiy. One need not “dress up” or “put on a face” to meet God. There are no walled-off areas; God can be trusted with reality.

Since I was raised rather conservative-“stiff upper lip”  this whole concept is kinda new for me. Especially that last sentence there. Radical, even. Blast out at God?? Tell Him how disappointed I am in Him for something?? He doesn’t insist I be polite in prayer time and even methodical, like a three-point essay as to why I would like Him to see things my way and cooperate??? Tell Him how much I want Him to send down fire and brimstone upon the heads of those who curse me??? And He won’t write me off as some whack job??? Seriously??? Woooo…. that’s like, I … um, wow, almost heretical ….. isn’t it??? “But that’s not the way prayer is done!

But as an explanation of what the psalmists’ poetry is makes the concept of being actually – dare I say it? – totally honest with God about my feelings, whatever and whenever, very enlightening …… liberating ……. and something I’ll be chewing on for awhile, no doubt. ‘Cuz ya know, it’s not like God doesn’t already know what I’m thinking or feeling, right? Still …….. hmmmmm. Wow.

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Emerging Church

I finished reading Dan Kimball’s “The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations” this week and it’s given me some new perspectives on reaching out to today’s unchurched people. In order to set the stage for the rest of his book, he first set forth the distinguishing characteristics of what is called “modern” and what is called “post-modern” with regard to different worldviews today.

In his book A Primer on Postmodernism, Stanley Grenz tells how the term postmodern was used in the 1930s by writers and architects desiring to break out of modern molds and patterns of thought and creativity. The word postmodern … represents a change in worldview moving from the values and beliefs of the modern era to the new postmodern era, which rejects many modern values and beliefs.

[M]odernism actually produced wonderful things, great advances in the sciences, in medicine, and in technology. Modernism did line up well with many aspects of our faith. However, we need to understand how modernism also shaped some of our concepts of church and faith, concepts that aren’t necessarily biblical. The Enlightenment assumed that human thinking can solve everything. So when modernism then assumed we could figure out God and systematize our faith, we went astray. What we need to do in the emerging church is to rethink what aspects or values of modernism became more or less accepted standards, rather than Scripture, for how we go about ministry.

In the same respect, not all of postmodernism is bad… Of course, we need to be discerning and wise as we think through any cultural  change, whether it’s small or major, like postmodernism is. But at the same time, there actually are many refreshing aspects of going back to a more transcendent view of God, allowing for mystery, and bringing back the supernatural view of life. We need to be thinkers and theologians more than ever in this day so we can discern the good from the bad and what is Scripture from what is man’s methodology or philosophy, whether it’s modern or postmodern. The “post” part of postmodern doesn’t mean we reject everything from modernism. It just means “after.”

He goes on to give the following summation of these concepts:

Pure modernism held to a single, universal worldview and moral standard, a belief that all knowledge is good and certain, truth is absolute, individualism is valued, and thinking, learning and beliefs should be determined systematically and logically. Postmodernism, then, holds there is no single universal worldview. All truth is not absolute, community is valued over individualism, and thinking, learning and beliefs can be determined nonlinearly.

The “modern era” is also defined as the time period beginning back in the 1500s to approximately the end of the 20th Century, as the advent of the printing press enabled new ideas to be spread quickly and distributed widely, thus allowing for individualism to flourish. With respect to the shift from the modern era into the postmodern era, Dan illustrates how the culture has changed the way we think, but that it has been happening over the last century:

As architects and philosophers began rejecting the confining modern values of systematic thinking, they began shaping a new postmodern philosophy. No longer did architecture have to be designed purely for function, nor music or art have to be placed in previously known categories. … As artists, philosophers and architects rejected modern values and embraced postmodern ideas, this change was reflected in university classes, which in turn began influencing new literature, art, architecture and even educational methods… [and] we began seeing actual changes slowly surfacing in experimental forms of music, movies and the arts [and] on university campuses in the 1960s.

By the 1980s and 1990s, postmodernism no longer impacted only the academic realm or just the most politically active college campuses, nor was it embraced only by the most innovative artists and philosophers. Postmodernism was now fully making its way into pop culture, showing itself in fashion, music, television, movies, theatre, arts, graphics and literature…. The modern categories that we once knew and used began to shift and disappear as new postmodern ones formed.

He goes on to use country music as an illustration: you see a singer dressed in cowboy hat, boots and jeans that we neatly categorize as a country “look.”  They sing a certain way and have a country “sound” to their music. In other words, the image they project is country and the art or music style they produce is country, exactly what you expect because in modern thought, that is the neat little box that the package fits into. There is nothing contradictory about how the singer looks and how they sound. Using this example, postmodern would be to see that same country image and hear music coming out of that image being a contradiction, such as punk rock. What you see is not what you get, as in a living example of “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

We are now experiencing postmodernism in everyday life … our schools, television shows, movies, advertising, magazines and fashions. They have effected changes in the way we view the world, human sexuality, religion and spirituality… Image no longer needs to align with its original meaning (i.e., country music starts can look like rock stars)… The lines are fuzzy, if they exist at all.

The spread of postmodern culture is accelerated as parents who have embraced postmodernism now teach others and raise their children. It becomes more and more the normal way of life [and] impacts values, ethics, sexuality and virtually everything, including our view of religion and spirituality, which is where those of us in church ministry start coming face to face with the fruit of postmodernism.

Whereas in the past, our country was a nation based upon Judeo-Christian beliefs, even wars were fought with understood rules. All of that changed when our country participated in the Korean and Vietnam wars and our western understanding of ethics in war were assaulted by sniper tactics, bombs strapped to innocent children, unconscionable acts of cruelty to our soldiers in prison camps and more. The modern western worldview was knocked on its ear. During this same time period, the advent of rock and roll and the ‘sexual revolution’ directly challenged and spit in the face of much of America’s Christian values. It was contrariness and contradiction for the sake of the thrill, offending the structured, comfortable and systematic  worldview of the modern mind.

Throughout the rest of the first part of Dan’s book, he elaborates that there is not currently a line of demarcation as to modern thinking ending unilaterally and postmodern thinking beginning and that what we are in the middle of right now is the overlap of the two. He also points out that it is not easy to separate the two merely by age or generation since the movement began with “free thinkers” a century ago and that we have people in their 80s and 90s now who are postmodern in worldview and teens and young adults right now who were raised in the modern, Judeo-Christian values home and therefore have modern mindsets.

The unfortunate part of what we now have to face in Christian ministry and evangelization is that more and more, today’s generation reflects spiritual relativism as the norm and that what many of us would call hypocrisy by claiming spiritual beliefs but not acting on them, is now seen as one’s “personal viewpoint of God and Jesus.”

It isn’t uncommon to see someone hold to a bit of Buddhist teaching and a little bit of Christianity, with even a trace of nature worship added to the mix. The difficult part for many of us to grasp is realizing that there is nothing wrong or contradictory with this approach to spirituality to individuals in the emerging culture.… A feature article in Newsweek recently pointed out that “young people are openly passionate about religion – but insist on defining it in their own ways.” This is only a normal and natural response being raised in a postmodern culture. We shouldn’t be surprised.

I thought the most poignant illustration Dan made which really hit home for me as to how seriously we need to think out the way we try and relate to this new emerging generation came with this retelling of a conversation he had with an older pastor:

“I’m telling you, these generations are no different than when I was a teenager or when I was in college.” The pastor’s face was flush with emotion. “When I was in high school, I rebelled and rejected the church.” He leveled a heated gaze right into my eyes. “When I got to college, I even explored some Eastern religions and experimented with some drugs. But then I got older. I got married, and when we had kids, I returned to my roots and came back to church.”

Then he smiled, as if his case had been clearly made. “It’s the same thing with young people today. They are just like I was. One day they’re all gonna grow up and be back in church. All of this is simply a generation gap issue.”

I quietly listened, and when he finished, I said, “You said you had kids and returned to your roots.”

“Yep,” he answered, “just like they will when they get older and come back to the church.”

“What if their roots involved no church or Christian faith to begin with? What if the roots they put down while they were growing up were a pluralistic mix of world faiths, leaning toward more of a Buddhist philosophy? How can they return to their roots of church and Christianity if they don’t have any roots there to return to?”

He sat for a minute looking a little puzzled and then responded, “I don’t know what they will do then.”

It’s a good book and I highly recommend it as well worth reading. This Scripture verse sums up the huge challenge we as Christians face in trying to reach this emerging generation with the gospel message:

“After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for Israel.” – Judges 2:10

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Benefits of being home sick in bed

Ah, Christmastide. This is the time of year when all of the church activity has stopped and people are home or away visiting relatives ……. and the church ministry staff takes a big breath and relaxes. Every year during the twelve days of Christmas since 1991 I can recall this time being one of recuperation from my annual “big cold.” God gives me the strength and endurance to run marathon-like through all of the special events and services of advent through Christmas Eve and then……wham! my body says: ok, no more running, just let me be sick and get over it or I’ll carry this into January. At 43, I’ve come to know my body and it’s tolerance levels pretty well by now.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m pleased with the way the month of December went with ministry plans carried out and special productions well received by the congregation and visitors. I’m not a big fan of being sick, but it does have its benefits: I get to wear my robe, pajamas or sweatpants and fuzzy slippers all day, I get to sleep as late as I want and go to bed as early as I want. But to me, the best part of being home sick in bed for several days is all of the reading I get to catch up on. I’ve got a pile of books that I’ve collected on my bedside table with bookmarks in various places where I’ve started and stopped countless times during the past year, and I now get the uninterrupted time scrunched up under the covers catching up on my books. You know, before I start adding to the pile again seeing as how it’s New Year’s already.

Right now I’ve got my nose in Michael Simpson’s Permission Evangelism, a book I started in 2006 and got as far as the first chapter. Now that I’m well into it, I’m sorry I didn’t make time to indulge much sooner. Other books in my stack include my nearly-finished David Kinnaman (President of Barna Research) & Gabe Lyons’ Un-Christian: What a New Generation Really Thinks of Christianity … and Why It Matters, and three I have yet to start by Dan Kimball: They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights from an Emerging Generation, The Emerging Church and Emerging Worship. Working in music and creative stuff makes me want to know what newer churches are doing that enhances worship and helps attract pre-Christians in ways they relate to to help them find God.

One might deduce from these titles what has been on my heart over the past year. Encountering “unchristian” Christians in the church is hard enough for someone dedicated to full-time ministry like myself, who at times struggles with keeping my passion for Christ focused in the face of rudeness and harsh personal attacks and criticism from the very same people I’m hired to minister to. I know the Bible says that we are to expect difficulties and suffering for the Word of God, but you sure don’t expect it from those who are supposed to be already saved and walking in the Light. Un-Christian is very informative in that I’m the kind of person who likes research and facts, and David Kinnaman writes in a smooth style that presents facts about what those outside of the church perceive the church to be like based upon media and their own personal encounters with the church or, more specifically, encounters of the worst kind with those claiming to represent Christ in the world.

Ouch – I’m a Christian and I don’t want to be thought of as a hypocrite, unloving or judgmental, but Barna Research Group has an abundance of data clearly indicating that today’s society has just that kind of unfavorable impression of Christians and no longer takes Christianity as a faith seriously because of it. This latter part is the one that slaps me in the face the most because part of my job is to be a witness to Christ to the OUTSIDE world. When I’m on the INSIDE and encounter the type of hypocritical, judgmental or unloving experience Barna Research Group has recorded far too many non-Christians and even Christians as having experienced, I want to know what to do to combat that and change it from within. Not to mention stay strong in my own faith and not waver in my convictions because of someone else’s bad behavior toward me.

Simply remembering that I do not get my worth from other people’s approval or disapproval of my calling, but rather from the One Who called me helps me to stay on track, but it hasn’t always been easy – especially earlier in my spiritual walk. The problem, as David Kinnaman keeps pointing out, is that the church is supposed to be a place where the lost and hurting find love, acceptance, forgiveness and a people who have experienced God’s grace and who now aim to be beacons to others to draw them to God’s love – by demonstrating what God has done for them in their words and interactions – but that’s not happening enough to combat the negative impression that has already been made on this generation. Somewhere along the line, we have strayed from our missional calling and in this pluralistic society where truth is no longer accepted as absolute, it’s critical that we take stock of where we are and how we can get back on track asap.

Don’t get the wrong impression – I’m not bashing the church or the people in it. I love what I do and Who I do it for – a Christian by definition is one who has acknowledged that they fall far short on their own and need God’s help. I’m just saying I totally relate to where the perception problem is coming from and am concerned that it’s on such a grand, grand, grand scale in this country. Epidemically so. As someone on the inside, who has answered the call to a full-time vocation in Christian ministry and intends to stay the course despite persecution, I want to know how to combat this bad image problem for Jesus’ sake. Understanding what the problem is and why it exists, what those bad perceptions of outsiders are and suggestions for overcoming them are things I need to know about in order to effectively share Jesus with others.

I can remember five or six years ago, it seemed wherever I went where there were a lot of people around (I specifically recall two times on the same day at a Home Depot), someone would be standing around waiting for assistance just like I was, would make their way over to me and start up a brief conversation by asking straight out: “Are you a nun?” I remember I was always a little startled and amused and would say, no, why? And the answer was always: “oh, I don’t know, there’s just something about you.”

Now, I don’t know how many women in their late 30s would be flattered to be taken for a nun in the midst of a frenzied marketplace, but I was. The two times it happened on the same day at the Home Depot, it was winter and I was wearing my full-length mink coat, long hair cascaded down my back, size 2 jeans, makeup on and clumpy snow boots. Must have been the cross necklace, because, seriously, what nun wears a fur coat?? Anyway, I know that spiritually, I was feeling very close to the Lord and praying earnestly that He would open the door for me to step into full-time ministry and allow me to pursue full-time the vocation I felt He had anointed me for years earlier. Obviously, that Light shining within me was what those folks saw, maybe in the patience several of them said I displayed, maybe something was showing on my face, because I know I was practicing “pray at all times” and communing with the Lord each time it happened.

Christians are all supposed to let His Light shine in us and through us. And if there’s a problem with why people are falling away from the church or being repelled from ever entering its doors in the first place, then there must not be enough Light shining through Christians to draw them near. I want to do my part to make sure I’m not a stumbling block that causes a fellow Christian to stumble nor a door that slams in the face of one seeking God’s Truth. I also know by experience that the devil steps up his scuzzy efforts to distract God’s workers the more effective those workers are for God’s Kingdom.

So, yes, I am not surprised by outright personal attacks from church members whose friends confide in me that “gee, I don’t know what’s gotten into her, she’s always been such a kind person in the past” and the like. OK, “not surprised” is not the right way to put that. “Not shaken” is probably the right phrase. I’m always surprised. But a very mature Christian woman asked me right after a very bad church experience whether or not someone else’s bad or unchristian behavior in any way shape or form affected my certainty of God’s purpose for my life.

Talk about an epiphany moment. That statement completely picked me back up. And that afternoon (yes, I swear it was only hours later) I got a direct phone call from a large church I had just sent out a resume to a few days before asking to schedule a time for an initial phone interview. I soon shook the dust off of my feet from where I was and within three weeks the Lord moved me on to where He had prepared for me to go. My ministry calling is to encourage the Lord’s people, but my particular venue is through music. Right now I’m in a desert place waiting for Him to open the next spiritual door for me to pass through. I’ve been sorely tempted to revisit in my mind some of the more poignant bad experiences I’ve lived through in ministry, but I’m pressing on and putting my mind to combatting the perception that church is unchristian or no longer as Jesus intended it to be. Must be why my reading pile has amassed a collection of books on this topic. I know I’ll finish at least two of them before Epiphany arrives on the calendar and am trusting that the Lord is waiting for me to do my part and get myself caught up on this subject that seems to have been presenting itself to me for at least two years.

The Lord has always handed to me on a silver platter precisely what I’ve needed at just the right time I needed it. This has been my testimony for over ten years since I first shared it publicly during a worship service I was serving as Worship Leader of, and I know it will continue to be proved over and over to me. Jeremiah 29:11-14 has been my Scriptural mantra for many years:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and will bring you back from captivity.”

I’ve had some ups this past year and some downs, but I’m determined to remain faithful to my calling and to Him Who has called me. No matter what.

That’s what I love most about being sick through Christmastide . . . the clarity of thought and spiritual discernment that comes despite the DayQuil fog.

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