Tuesday, October 26, 2010

what's on the nightstand

Fairly often I’ll have someone ask me what I’m reading. It’s embarrassing that I can only remember what I’m currently slogging through. Then along came my traveling library in the form of a Kindle; I got one just about a year ago. Okay, don’t judge me: I also have an iPad…an extravagant gift some folks gave me. What’s great is the Kindle app on it: all my books transfer. So if you’re familiar with the commercials, I can read in the brightest sunlight...or pitchblack! Ain’t technology wonderful?

I also read a fair amount (okay, a lot) of pop culture websites as well as mainstream magazines from Wired to Fast Company to Time just so I can have a reasonable conversation with people about the world we live in. I also have subscriptions to Christianity Today, Leadership Journal, Relevant, Sojourners and Outreach.

The following is what’s currently on my Kindle and what I’ve read over the last year:

• The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective; Russell D. Moore. Solid book on how critical embracing a Kingdom-theology is along with a recent history of evangelicalism and a Kingdom-orientation. An evangelical, Moore seeks common ground regarding social and political hot buttons.

• Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: a Sociologist Shatters Myths Form the Secular and Christian Media; Bradley R. E. Wright, PhD. Just started reading this and thoroughly enjoying it. For instance, I’ve long been suspicious of Barna and doubted their analysis of their own stats. I think I’m just tired of fear-based messages; perhaps the sky isn’t actually falling.

To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World; James Davison Hunter. Loved, loved, loved this book! I wish everyone in the Vineyard would read this one. His sharp social-theory commentary and research, particularly on the politicization of the American culture, is spot-on in my opinion. It actually makes me feel good about our particular tribe (despite some convicting moments in the book) and makes me feel that his “faithful presence” approach is in our DNA.

Mansions of the Heart: Exploring the Seven Stages of Spiritual Growth; R. Thomas Ashbrook. A retooling of Teresa of Avila’s spiritual formation thinking in “Interior Castles”. Teresa was a bit of a mentor to St. John of the Cross (of “Dark Night of the Soul”-fame). Interesting thoughts from a confessed Type-A pastor.

Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back; Frank Schaeffer. You’ll need to take a shower after this one. Frank (son of evangelical icon Francis Schaeffer) has written a gossipy tell-all that feels like an E Channel documentary filled with f-bombs and irreverent humor. He’s a troubled soul…but no wonder if half of his family history is true.

• The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond; Bill Hybels. Hearing from the Holy Spirit is not the unique domain of classic charismatics! How about a Dutch Reformed pastor? As John Wimber used to say, faith is spelled r-i-s-k…and this book is filled with stories of risky obedience to the promptings of the Spirit. You have to admire the scope and influence Willow Creek has had on the Church. On a personal level, I asked Bill why he invited me to speak at Willow a couple of years ago because, as I told him, “no one knows who the heck I am.” He simply said, “I felt prompted by the Spirit.” He smokes what he sells. Plus, I like any Christian book that has the word “guts” in the title.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die; Dan & Chip Heath. Simple theory and practicals on what makes certain concepts/ideas/products memorable. It’s disposable business literature but interesting.

The Leadership Challenge; James Kouzes & Barry Posner. A true classic. I re-read it periodically. Reminds me of what I want to be when I grow up. Should be on every leader’s must-read list.

Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There; Gary McIntosh. Straightforward primer for understanding how both the age and the life-cycles of church creates barriers for growth. You either like this stuff or not. Good intro into this genre.

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of The Christian Faith; Tim Keller. Keller’s got some great insights on the prodigal son story; he artfully juxtaposes the problem with running from God and manipulating His love with moral behaviors. Highly recommended for those who are burned out on religion. Love this line: “Both the worldly life of sensual pleasure and the religious life of ethical strictness fail to give the human heart what it is seeking.”

The Me I Want to Be; John Ortberg. Joe Boyd really liked this book. Just starting it.

Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time; Sarah Ruden. Loved the premise: a female Quaker scholar of Greco-Roman classic literature decides to study Paul through the cultural context of Paul’s literary peers. She began the study with her personal paradigm of Paul as a misogynistic, sexually repressive egotist who perverted Jesus’ message. After her study, she did a one-eighty. Warning: her colloquial translations of some classics border on mild pornography; its an eye-opening experience into ancient culture.

• Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion; Gregory Boyle. A priest tells gritty stories of his gang-intervention ministry (Homeboy Industries) in L.A. County. Hold in tension the raw language and almost over-attempt to be relevantly hip with his incredibly selfless and difficult work with gangs—this guy has done 169 funerals since 1988. Street cred galore.

The DNA of Relationships; Gary Smalley. Hey, its a free download. Haven’t started yet.

After You Believe; N. T. Wright. This one and Surprised By Hope have been my favorites from Tom Wright. This line alone makes me want to stand up and march: “Jesus came, in fact, to launch God’s new creation, and with it a new way of being human…” (is he listening to old Switchfoot…?) and “Jesus believed and taught that humans in general, including God’s people Israel, had a sickness of heart which all attempts at self-betterment could not touch.”

The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity; Soon-Chan Rah. Oh yeah. This one will provoke and punch. His case for real cultural diversity and upsetting typical white evangelical assumptions is good for the soul. His picture of evangelical western ‘cultural captivity’ is expressed as individualism, consumerism/materialism and racism. Amen.

• Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands; Nancy Ortberg
. Another freebie. Nice, conversational thoughts on leadership/management; reads like it was transcripted from workshops.

Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home; Richard Foster. I love Foster’s pure, personal and devotional approach to writing. He makes me want to pray without feeling guilty.

Drive; Daniel Pink. I read this before Pink spoke at the Leadership Summit and was completely intrigued. People got tired of hearing me quote from it. You can get the gist of it in this great little video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

Myth of a Christian Nation; Gregory A. Boyd. Helpful book for those struggling with (or tired of) the politics of nationalism. Nice introduction on how the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world clash. You may not agree with everything, but I think true conversion to following Christ begins with this mindset.

Prayer of the Faithful: Understanding and Creatively Leading Corporate Intercessory Prayer; W. C. Huffman. I was looking for something on corporate intercession with a bit of liturgical feel. Not all that helpful for our context, but my favorite quote is this: “When Luther cut back the enormous growth of the medieval mass, his pastoral intincts led him to simplify forms of prayer and song. In limiting the lengthy gradual to two verses, he suggested that those interested could sing the over verses at home. (Take note, all us Vineyard worships leaders!) …(Luther) wrote: ‘In church we do not want to quench the spirit of the faithful with tedium.’”

Axion: Powerful Leadership Proverbs; Bill Hybels. Always engaging and motivational, you may not agree with every short learning, but it will certainly fire your reflective jets on your own leadership.

The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church; Alan Hirsch. Just downloaded this last night after reading a few pages at Jason Scott’s house. Piqued my interest and I’m not familiar with Hirsch’s writing.

Outliers: The Story of Success; Malcolm Gladwell. Yeah, he’s ubiquitous. Regardless of what you think of his analysis, dang…he’s a good storyteller. Never boring. And I love that he touches on race issues in such a backdoor way.

The Apostle Paul and Women in the Church; Don Williams. Don’s a Vineyard scholar. If you’re egalitarian (I am), you’ll enjoy this. Good primer to the problem of women’s roles; for example, he uses the ‘life source’ rather than the ‘lordship’ interpretation of Ephesians 5:23. The cultural book references are a little dated, but the material is well written. Not sure if this would settle any argument or is the ultimate apologetic, but it will get you thinking.

Mystically Wired: Exploring New Realms in Prayer; Ken Wilson. Ken (our regional overseer) is the best-kept secret in the Vineyard movement. He makes tough ideas, concepts and practices accessible. His personal journey of prayer and wealth of experience in community makes “divine hours” prayer (as an example) not only practical but attractive for us ‘can’t-sit-still’ ADD-driven, prayer-guilted folks.

There you go. Not sure if these are all hearty recommendations for everyone, but it’s been interesting reading for me.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes?

Finally have a chance here to post a bit. I wrote part of this in a Belfast airport after having said goodbye to my friend Jason Scott. Jason and his wife Michelle are co-leaders of the Vineyard in Dungannon, Northern Ireland; they planted the church about six years ago and have done a brilliant job with their extremely capable leaders of creating a very cool and energized outward-focused church. My job is to simply offer a bit of encouragement from time to time.

They kindly invited me to speak at a conference called Explore58 for area churches (some from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Ireland and England), primarily on the Church’s response to poverty using Isaiah 58 as the driving text. I’ll blog a bit about that next.

I nearly didn’t get there. The day Anita and I were to drive to Dayton Airport at 3 p.m., I was working with our video guy at the office. My assistant Donna called me with a little problem: my passport was in Washington D.C. I had forgotten that over a month ago we had sent my passport to the Nigerian Embassy in D.C. to get the visa for my trip to Jos in November. The rest of the team had their passports returned but somehow mine wasn’t mailed. She felt terrible. So did I.

Time to panic. Okay, and pray. I know, I know.

We had to cancel my flights to and from Belfast and began making frantic calls to the embassy; thankfully, my Nigerian friend Emmanuel Itapson was phoning as well. In the meantime, we found a flight to D.C. from CVG/Cincinnati but I needed to leave immediately. I called Anita from my office and asked her to pack my bag while I drove home. My coworker and small group buddy Kent met me there to drive me to the airport. Anita still had to fly out of Dayton a few hours later.

We weren’t totally sure if anyone at the embassy would find my passport or if I could even get there in time. Of course, even booking a flight to D.C. with a final destination of Belfast wasn’t simple: they still wanted my passport number at the ticket counter even though that’s what I was trying to get! I nearly missed the flight out. En route, Emmanuel called me and told me he finally got through to someone at the embassy and they told him they were just fifteen minutes away from dropping it in the mail. Whoa.

When I got to D.C., I ran through the terminals to catch a taxi for a nearly one-hour drive to the embassy in hopes of catching someone there. The cabdriver had a thick accent and wore a turban. I asked him where he was from and he told me India. We talked about our families. We talked about our respective homes. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was trying to get to Belfast via the Nigerian Embassy. He drove faster and asked me why. I told him about the conference on poverty and Christians’ response to it…and then gently told him how my life had changed when I met Jesus. He was quiet and respectful. We had a really good God-conversation. We talked about the part of India he was from and I told him of my friend Jason’s work with the Dalits, India’s poorest of the poor. He was familiar with them and informed me he was a Sikh. I asked him how he had chosen to become a Sikh and he said you’re simply born one.

It reminded me of America and how so many people just assume they’re a Christian because they were Protestant or Catholic and went to church. We’re really not that different. I related that idea to him and how I believed God gives each of us the choice to surrender our hearts to Him.

We found the embassy just as it closed and came across a guard who actually had my passport in an envelope! I ran back through the gates for my cabbie friend. We continued our conversation until I had to run to the ticket counter.

I just missed my flight connection. Dang. And I won’t tell you how much the cab ride was.

Turned out I could get a flight to London at 10 p.m. And thirteen hours later, I was closer to Belfast. Then by 2:30 p.m. (BST) the next day, I finally landed at George Best Airport in lovely Northern Ireland.

Without my luggage.

Apparently, it was confused and still in D.C. Not to worry; all I really need was my Macbook, a power supply, and a bottle of contact lens solution. And that travels with me.

The conference went really well. God showed up, hearts were broken for the poor and practical ideas were offered. Along with others, I spoke three times and then on Sunday morning.

A few days later, we left at 8:30 a.m. on a Friday morning to briefly attend a pastors’ breakfast in Lurgan on the way to the airport. At 1 p.m. I was having another God-conversation on the flight to London with an older woman. The door opened for me to tell how Jesus had changed my life. She opened up and related all about twins she had given up for adoption and how they recently reentered her life. She was obviously struggling with it, but periodically would say, “But it doesn’t really bother me,” and then would recount the story all again. She allowed me to pray for her on the plane and teared up.

We got back at 1 a.m. on Friday morning and just in time to be home for our relationship conference with Emerson Eggerichs.

This morning, as I was in a hurry to get to our conference and backing out of the garage, I forgot my daughter Katie was parked in the driveway and sideswiped her car…effectively wrecking two family cars with ease.

Sheesh. It’s never boring…

…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:20)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

25 years

A quarter of a century.

That’s how long the Vineyard has been doing ministry in Greater Cincinnati and beyond. Or at least that’s when we began holding Sunday morning celebrations. Prior to that, there were a few small groups and a Sunday night gathering at a house and later a Kindercare. At one point before 1985, we had a brief stint with an afternoon service in a Junior Achievement building somewhere in Blue Ash if I remember correctly.

But Sunday mornings began in the Hayloft square dance barn on Glensprings Drive off Route 4 where Perkins currently sits. The Hayloft was later relocated to Winton Woods and renamed Parky’s Barn.

We had a grand total of thirty-seven people…including the band.

I’ve only done two other things longer than twenty-five years: follow Jesus…and be married. Interesting: the three things I’ve done the longest were the best decisions I ever made. Or sometimes I think they were made for me in my most Calvinistic moments. Regardless, there wasn’t great clarity involved. I think I was actually pretty nervous making each decision. I’m not sure what that means.

Anyway, let me help you feel old. Or if you’re young, incredulous.

1985 was the year. I was still traveling and playing music in band called Prodigal. We recorded our third album that year in several locations using a 24-track mobile recording truck (hey, it was still state-of-the-art then with two-inch magnetic tape…) from Full Sail Recording in Orlando. And we were still scraping by. But on weekends when I wasn't on the road, Anita and I were at this new little church plant called the Vineyard. I left Prodigal the following year and, very reluctantly (to put it mildly), began leading worship each week as a volunteer. And for the next four years before coming on staff.

In 1985, Gorbachev became President of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union no longer exists. Now it’s only Russia with Medvedev (*cough*-Putin-*cough*) as President.

“Back To the Future” was the big movie with groundbreaking special effects. Have you seen it lately? The effects are as bad as Star Wars.

The first Blockbuster Video store opened in Texas. Try finding one now. It was delisted on the NYSE a few months back and two weeks ago declared bankruptcy. Stocks are at six cents.

In 1985, Coke introduced New Coke. Three months later it was back to Old Coke.

Calvin and Hobbes made their first appearance. Genius. But after ten years, creator Bill Watterson put away his pens.

In 1985 I bought my first computer: a Commodore SX64. A beautiful portable computer that only weighed twenty-three pounds, had a cover that popped off and became the keyboard (complete with attached telephone-type curly cord), and an amazing 5-inch color screen (the first on a “portable”). I ran Dr. T sequencing software (rows and rows of numbers) for the new world of MIDI-controlled instruments (MIDI protocol had only been adopted two years earlier: Spec 1.0). What’s more it had a whopping 170 kilobytes of hard drive storage. Yowza!

To put this in scale, a little classic iPod can hold 167,772,160 kilobytes if my math is correct. And, as you can guess, the Commodore SX64 is no longer around.

A lot of things come and go in twenty-five years.

But the Vineyard is still here.

I don’t know totally what that means, but I’d say that servanthood, kindness, mercy, grace, Holy Spirit power, vision, forgiveness and acceptance never go out of style. Or as Paul the apostle put it: “There are three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

If we can remember that, I think the next twenty-five will go swimmingly.