A Potato Theology–We Need It Today

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It hit me late yesterday afternoon.  We had been to our family doctor for check-ups, blood work, renewing prescriptions, flu shots, oh, a taking a slice of a mole on my shoulder for a biopsy.  That last part wasn’t part of the plan.  But perhaps it was that last one that led me to these thoughts:  The Church Today Needs A Potato Theology.  Are you scratching your head now, wondering where this left-handed maniac is headed?  I know I’m thinking that, so stay with me a moment.

The nurse practitioner isn’t expecting anything bad from the biopsy of that mole.  But…but to be sure she needed to get beneath the surface to know for certain.  Then I started thinking about potatoes.  Growing up with a Dad who loved to garden, I clearly remember that sometimes he planted potatoes.  Most of the other fruits and vegetables he grew could be seen.  But potatoes–all one could see is the plant.  And they didn’t look like the french fries I so dearly loved.  Oh, and the mashed potatoes.  Before I could savor those flavors, I had to wait…wait until what was beneath the surface could be brought up.  And it is now what I realize the Holy Spirit is trying to teach me.

The Bible is a lot like the simple potato.  What we need and long for isn’t found at the surface, you have to dig down into it.  It’s what I’m calling a “Potato Theology”–a theology that goes beyond the surface, and to the heart.  Now, I know some, actually a lot of folks who openly say, “I’m not a theologian, I’m a Christian!”  And they wonder why the church is suffering such great losses.  Look at that word:  Theology.  It comes from 2 Greek words:  Theos which means “God” and Logia which means “to reason or to study.”  Theology is to study and think about God.  To say you are not into theology or being a theologian means you are not into studying about God.

A Christian who claims they are not a theologian is saying “I’m not a thinking Christian.”  Such an attitude fails to fully love God.  Isn’t the greatest commandment to love God with all your heart, MIND, soul and strength (Mark 12:30)?  The place, the best place, the foundation place to study about God is the Bible.  But many, way too many, read only the surface words.  And the result is that though they deny they have a theology, they do have one, and a poor one at that.

For example, many people believe that divorce disqualifies one from being a pastor and quote Titus 1:6 as their proof.  That phrase “husband of one wife” in the Greek is ane mia gyne.  It literally means “be faithful to the woman”.  The Greek word for divorce is apolyo.  Not present in Titus 1:6.  Then there’s all those who quote from the Old Testament without understanding what is being said.  Some use Leviticus to back up their point without discerning the different kinds of laws God gave the Hebrews.  Some were moral laws while others were health laws.  Unless one studies deeply they can mistake health laws needed to protect the population from sickness and disease, and consider them moral laws.  For example, pork and shell-fish back then could contain all kinds of deadly bacteria.  They didn’t know anything about bacteria, so God tells them not to eat those items.  But today, we have health codes to protect us from those deadly bacteria.

It’s not always easy to discern what the Bible says.  But because it’s not easy, doesn’t mean it is impossible.  Use good resources to explore deeper.  And thanks to this varmint called the internet, you don’t have to pay for tons of books or spend time in your local library.  All I’m saying is that just as the best part of the potato lies beneath the surface, the best parts of the Bible are beneath the surface words.

Words cannot contain the wisdom of eternity, so we need more.  We need the Holy Spirit to guide us through this awesome and powerful book.  Take the time to go beyond the surface, beyond what others have said a passage means.  Discover it for yourself.  It’s not what’s on the surface we need most of all, but the Truth that lives deeply within these words.  Without that deep dive into scriptures, we will reduce the Good News of The Kingdom to a list of rules, a list of “do this” and “don’t do that”, which results in a lot more “don’t do that”.  Thus, a disciple of Jesus is reduced to what they don’t do, rather than the Holy Spirit that lives in them.

In short, we need to quit judging people based on what’s on their surface.  Body piercings, tattoos, designer suits, how they fix their hair, wearing jewelry–all on the surface.  Even Jesus made the point in Matthew 15 that it’s not the external that matters, but the internal.  And when God went searching for a king to replace Saul, He looked deeper than surface appearances, He searched for a king who would share His own heart.

So, you see, we do need that POTATO THEOLOGY, one that looks beyond what’s one the surface.  Let’s all dig deeper, it’s where the really good stuff is…..

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him….and get that shovel out and start digging, thar’s gold in them thar’ hills! 

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Everybody Has A Past!

(This is the first of a sermon series I am currently doing.  Next week I’ll share the second.  I pray this will speak something hopeful into your heart and life!)

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A new series begins today that I’m calling Everybody.  The Theme Verse of this series is Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”    A couple of weeks ago I was already thinking about what to preach about after Communion Sunday.  Almost immediately this word invaded my mind and my heart.  And I can see why.

We live in a culture that divides people into groups.  Us and them.  We and they.  Those people!  These have become the iconic words of our culture.  Black Lives Matter.  White Lives Matter.  Blue Lives Matter.  All Lives Matter.  Red States.  Blue States.  Republicans.  Democrats.  Socialists.  Such are the words that describe this Fractious And Fractured culture called the United States.

This spirit of division is fueling fear and hate—and it’s leading us deeper and deeper into chaos.  The recent hearings for a new supreme court justice isn’t the problem.  It’s just a sign of this Fractious And Fractured Culture.  But it’s not always been so.  In the beginning, it was an “Everybody”.

In Genesis 1:26-28 we read: 26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.  They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and govern it.”

This is God’s design.  He designed for life to be lived, experienced and celebrated TOGETHER!  Together with Him.  Together with the world.  Together with each other.  That’s how the Image, His Image looked in the beginning.  Look at the words our culture has forgotten—even the church many times has forgotten:  Let US make. . . in OUR image. . . to be like US. . .

Who is US?  Who is OUR?  God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living TOGETHER in that depth of closeness that is the perfect mystery.  God exists as 3 but is 1—because they are TOGETHER.  And for a season, it was Everybody.  They were together with God, together with the world, and together with each other.

But then something happened.  Anyone know what happened?  Together was shattered.  Adam and Eve were no longer together with each other.  They were no longer together with the world.  And they were no longer together with God.  Eve admitted her sin, and blamed the snake. Adam blamed—who?  God!  Yes, he did.  He said, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit”.

Sin was now in the middle of God’s creation.  Together with God, with the world, and with each other was now just a memory.  And generation after generation continued that brokenness.  But God, God longs to bring us back together—back to being EVERYBODY.  Throughout time, God has been seeking to bring us back together.

The Kingdom of God is all about bringing the “Everybody” back into His Design.  And Paul, who at one point in his life thought he was with the only ones who would get into heaven—said in Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  And thus. . .this word Everybody.  Though we are Fractious And Fractured, there is still Everybody.

Everybody has a common condition; really 3 conditions.  Everybody Has A Past.  Everybody Has A Present.  And Everybody Has A Future.  We are going to look at an example of each of these each week.  And here’s the 1 thing you need to remember:  Everybody Has A Past! 

I want you to know I’ve really challenged myself with this series—well, actually God is challenging me.  I started thinking about an example of this from Scripture—and almost immediately it hit me, “Hey, God!  This book is full of people who had a past.”  I suspect that God had this sheepish grin on His face.  It’s harder to find someone who didn’t have a past.  Then it finally hit me.  Turn to Romans 7:14-25 (the Message)

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming:  “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not.  Isn’t this also your experience?”  Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison.  What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.  So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more!  For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help!  I realize that I don’t have what it takes.  I can will it, but I can’t do it.  I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.  

My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions.  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable.  The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.  I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight.  Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps.  I’m at the end of my rope.  Is there no one who can do anything for me?  Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.  He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Here’s what God is continuing to teach me about this passage.

1]  Everybody Is A Sinner By Nature

Do you believe the Bible is accurate and reliable?  Then there’s Romans 3:23—For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  That’s what he’s expanding on there in Chapter 7.  I want to do right, but I don’t do it.  I don’t want to do wrong, but Golly Gee Willikers Batman, I do it anyway.

You say, “I’ve been going to church all my life.  I’ve been baptized.  I’ve memorized Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed.”  That’s good.  “I’ve never stolen or cheated or killed anyone.”  Good for you.  But, we are still sinners by nature.  As followers of Jesus, we’ve been born again and transformed by Grace.  But. . ..

We are just as much sinners as those waking up this morning, hung over, in someone’s bed they don’t know, or in a jail cell somewhere.  We are all equally sinners by nature.  Even after we invite Jesus into our hearts and are born again—we are capable of sinning again.

Not only are we capable of sin—we actually sin.  The most commonly used Greek word for sin is ‘hamartia’.  It’s an archery term—missing the target.  Everybody at the foot of the Cross is Equal.  You and I are no different from Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Charles Manson, or your ex-spouse.   When we understand and accept that we are equally sinners—it’s the first step in healing the divide between Everybody.

2]  Everybody Has A Story That Needs To Be Told And Heard.

One of the results of this Fractious And Fractured culture is that we have become good talking at and talking about people.  The result is that we have become poor listeners.  Coming together never happens if we never listen.  Some hear as much as they need to point the finger to tell them how wrong they are.  That’s not how Jesus listened.  Think about that episode with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well found in John 4.

Plenty of people talked about her.  And they probably talked at her.  But did they ever talk with her?  Jesus did.  He never talked at her.  Even when she tried to hide her story, Jesus revealed her story.  Broken heart, broken marriages, broken life.  She knew Jesus heard the story of her life.  He never said to her, “Divorce is wrong.”  He didn’t say, “You need to quit shacking up with that man.”  Instead He created a safe space for her story to be heard.

People around us all have stories that need to be told and heard.  A couple of weeks ago at McDonald’s I notice that the young woman waiting on me had tattoos, and I really liked how they looked.  I notice ink because, well, I’ve been thinking about it for a while.  Just haven’t done it yet.  I mentioned about how good they looked.  She began to tell me the story behind the ink.  I listened because she had a story that needed to be told and someone to listen to her story.  I’m not bragging on myself—but I’ve been hoping for the opportunity to hear more of her story through her ink.  But I haven’t seen her again.  Looking back, I can’t help but think that God engineered this circumstance just for her—and for me.

YOU have a story that needs to be told and heard.  Oh, it may not be a story made for Lifetime Channel.  You may not be invited to appear on Fox and Friends on Monday morning, but understand that everyone, including you, has a story.  All of us are people with stories—stories that someone needs to hear.  You story will come out of 2 places:  a place of brokenness and the other place is where God’s Grace has touched your life.  Everyone has a story that needs to be heard.  The second step in coming back together as it was in the beginning requires genuine listening.

3]  Everyone Needs Kindness!

Kindness is the opposite of the words we hear in our culture today.  If our culture is ever going to stop this madness, it must start with us—the Body of Christ, the Citizens of The Kingdom of God.  Paul puts it like thin in Ephesians 4:31-32—“31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

I’ll give you an example from Jesus on how to be kind.  It’s the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19.  I’m remembering a song from childhood at Vacation Bible School:  “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.”

He was a crook, cheating people.  He was a collaborator with their hated enemies, the Romans.  He ate high on the lamb while the people he took from struggled to get by.  This man deserved no kindness.  He made his bed now let him lie in it.  But Jesus showed kindness to Zacchaeus.  Jesus was criticized for it—but Jesus didn’t care they criticized Him.  What He knew was that Zacchaeus was a man who needed kindness, and He wasn’t about to allow public opinion to change His mind.

Kindness is not what is earned and given to people who deserve it.  Kindness Is Given In Abundance To Those Who Need It The Most—The Wounded, Broken, Angry, And Those Who Have Given Up On Life.

The division in our nation is getting worse.  It’s race, it’s economics, it’s politics, it’s a whole lot of stuff.  None of it is The Kingdom of God.  Everybody has a past—and they won’t get over it as long as people hold it over them.

Here are your Next Steps:

  1. Know Your Own Story. Your story comes out of your broken places and where God’s Grace restored you.
  2. Be Ready To Listen To Someone Else’s Story. God is going to provide you the opportunity to hear another’s story.  This will not happen every day.  So you need to pray every day for the Holy Spirit to help you recognize that Holy Moment God is preparing them to share their story.

Remember to love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

What The Church Should Learn From Bikers

 

 

I started to title this “What The Church Can Learn From Bikers”, but I realized that should is the word that fits.  Now, a bit of explanation of my terminology.  When I say “biker”, I mean BIKER!  Not those people who wear spandex peddling those steel  or some alloy tubes on skinny wheels.  Those are called bicycles, not bikes.  Cyclists are NOT bikers.

Bikers wear leather, not spandex.  I know, because I am one.  In 2003, after my divorce ended 29 years of a marriage, I set out to “redefine” myself.  Decades ago I had a dirt bike and then a smaller street bike; but that was decades ago.  I found myself drawn into a local dealer and started looking.  Then I even went out price shopping at other dealers.  Then I bit the bullet, and picked one out.

Being a preacher, it had to be black and it must have lots of chrome.  I love chrome!  I thought at the  talledegatime I was redefining myself from the rubble of my life.  It turns out, though, that God was taking me on a journey to DEFINE my life, the person HE created.  For over 4 decades I allowed others to define me; that’s my fault.  I needed God to define me, and He did.  Not that I always got it right, but I kept coming back.  And HE kept accepting me back.  That’s how I became a biker.  Now, back to what I’ve been learning.  One thing I’ve learned is that many churches look nothing like the Body of Christ, but Bikers….they get it!  And here are 6 things the church today needs, urgently needs to learn from bikers.

1.  We Love What We Do!

We take great joy in what we do.  There are few things more exhilarating than finding a winding road with the wind in your face.  I never have heard a biker complain about going for a ride.  However, I have heard bikers lament when they had to hang up their174809558-612x612 leathers.  Now that’s a sadness that words cannot describe.  No whining.  No complaining.  Just loving what we do at the end of the day and wishing for more time and planning the next ride.  You will never hear a biker say, “You know, this morning I just don’t feel like riding today.”  If you do, immediately dial 911 and get her or him to a level 1 trauma center.  One of my Biker friends had this pillow on his book-case that said:  “You never see a bike parked in front of a psychiatrist’s office.”

But church?  Whining?  You bet!  Complaining?  You can take it to the bank.  Missing church?  There is an unending list of really good sounding excuses.  And when at church?  Not much joy, except that it’s over for another week.  Like Bikers, we should love what we do, but….here’s another lesson for church today.

2.  We Are A Diverse Group

White collar, blue-collar, dog collar….a model of diversity.  I’ve met factory workers, farmers, retirees, a federal judge, dentist, lawyer, small business owner….and yes, other preachers.  But in leather, we are held in a common bond.  Our backgrounds do notBiker matter.  There is a brotherhood and sisterhood that is not formed by how we are alike–but by our differences held together by a common passion.  Whatever you do the rest of the week doesn’t matter when you fire it up, put on the leather and ride.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what your politics are or where you live.  The diversity adds beauty and strength to this ‘Hood of Bikers.

And church?  Martin Luther King, Jr. was right then, and still right today when he said, “Sunday morning at 11:00 is the most segregated hour every week.”  And today, segregation still happens.  In some churches it’s race.  For others, it’s political views, traditions, economic status, where you work, where you live.  The church for decades has tried to be a cookie cutter factory, where we all look and sound alike.  I don’t think those 12 guys Jesus hand-picked for the first disciples looked alike, talked alike and acted alike.  I love seeing a congregation that’s gathered, reflecting the diversity of the community around it.  But it’s rare to see it.  Conformity rules the group.  But like Bikers…we should be a diverse group.  Another lesson we should learn from Bikers.

3.  We Are Friendly

Bikers who do not know each other, never met before, meet at the gas pump , we talk to each other.  In a meat and 3 diner, we talk to each other.  If a biker is having trouble with their bike, we do more than just talk, we help each other.  There’s a lot of people who act afraid of bikers.  I don’t know why.  They are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.065.jpg  Ever noticed how Bikers acknowledge each other on the road?  Usually with 2 fingers down.  It mainly means “keep 2 wheels down”; that’s important on a bike because you don’t want them on their side, because you will be, too. The bike, the leather, the road–is a culture of friendliness.

I know that churches like to say they are friendly.  And they are friendly–if you talk like them, act like them, believe like them.  They are friendly, as long as you don’t sit in their pew or try to change something in their church.  Then it’s Katie bar the door.  Friendliness stops.  Bikers are friendly because they don’t focus on the surface things.  They focus on what matters the most to them.  But we Bikers are more than friendly–we are friends–even if we don’t know each others names.  It’s unconditional friendliness, a lesson the church should learn.  Another lesson we should learn from bikers is:

4.  We Are Loyal To Each Other

Bikers have each other’s back.  They stand up and support one another.  Even among thef220bc461577d6409506165d8758af56 “One Percenters” (that’s outlaw biker clubs for the uninformed) there is a loyalty for those in their club.  If someone gets hurt and can’t work?  Forget Aflac, they hold a Rally, a Poker Run, or simply pass the helmet to help the one who’s hurt and their family.  Bikers stand with and by each other, through good times and hard times.  They even help others.  There are Rides to benefit St. Jude’s, March of Dimes, Toys For Tots, and the list goes on.

And the church’s track record on loyalty?  As long as everyone behaves themselves, and does what they are told to do, yeah. they’re loyal.  But when one falls, when one is hurting, when one is struggling–many churches either kick them out, or even worse–they simply ignore the fallen and the hurting.  Speaking as one wounded (more than twice) by the church, I didn’t see a lot of loyalty.  Honestly, I didn’t expect it because their track record had already been establish–and it wasn’t good.  But there should be a strong sense of loyalty to each other in the church.

5. We Don’t Worry About What Others Think About Us

We accept that some people will never accept us because, well, we are different.  We look different, act different, talk different.  Though I’m a preacher, truthfully when I have 3jpeg days growth of beard and in all my leathers on my loud bike, I can see why some good honest church folks who don’t know me might think not so nice things about me.  One Saturday I went riding with some friends, all of us with at least 2 days worth of beard, full leathers and we stopped at a little diner for lunch.  As we walked in I noticed people staring at us, and not in a good way.  Know what?  I’m OK with that.  I’m not out trying to win the approval of others.  There’s only One whose approval I need.  We don’t care about external stuff, well maybe except for our bikes.  We are comfortable in our own skin and do not need validation through the approval of others.

And in the church?  Nearly, if not everything is about appearances and outward stuff.  Emphasis is on the external, the very thing that angered Jesus about the Pharisees.  Being a Christian becomes more about what one does NOT do than what one actually does; more about how they look more so than who they are deep inside; more about certain beliefs than Kingdom Living.  When it’s all about appearances, we lack the substance of the Kingdom Life.  Bikers teach us not to worry about appearances and what others think.  Here’s another thing that Bikers can teach the church.

6.  We Know The Risks And Ride Anyway

We realize the being a Biker isn’t for everyone.  It is risky.  There’s a motto often seen in motorcycle-wreck-maggieour community.  “Live To Ride.  Ride To Live.”  There are inherent dangers.  In my part of the world one of the dangers is deer.  You’ve seen the damage they inflict on a car, think about a bike.  Then there’s the dangers of car drivers.  Road conditions.  And when we are inattentive to those dangers.  Honestly, there are tons of reasons not be to a biker.  Yet, each day we gear up and ride.  Are we oblivious to the dangers?  Absolutely not.  But we believe that the rewards most definitely outweigh the risks.  Do I pray before I ride?  While I ride?  Is the Pope Catholic?  We respect these machines but we don’t allow the fear to keep us from riding.  When fear does override the joy, they sell those bikes and buy a convertible.  What should the church learn from this?

A malady that has inflicted the 21st Century Church is the unwillingness to take risks for Jesus and the Kingdom.  They want to play it safe.  They want to know the outcome before venturing out, and that the outcome is worth it; meaning, the church will get new members.  If you can’t get new members then it’s not worth the risk.  The Devil knows he can’t defeat The Kingdom; he’s already tried and failed.  Remember that empty tomb?  Instead of attacking The Kingdom, he has filled many local churches with the need for playing it safe, and avoiding the risks.  He won’t win the final victory, but he takes great delight in the impotency of churches unwilling to risk it all for Jesus.  People risk eternity for the sake of time.  Why not risk Time for the sake of Eternity?

 

Well, that just 6 of the lessons many churches should learn from Bikers.  It’s 5 lessons the church MUST learn if it is ever to escape the current “survival mode” and once again THRIVE!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

Now, if you will excuse me, I think there’s a curvy road calling out to me….

A Word About Mowing Lawns

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First, this Post is for the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Bikers.  That’s as in BIKES not bicycles.  And, this post is for everyone who mows a lawn, whether it’s your own or you do it to make a living.  This morning after coffee at one of the local liars watering holes, I needed to run an errand–on my bike.  Bike, my friends, NOT a bicycle.  As I was going along the street, a local lawn service was mowing and blowing the grass into the street.  It was still wet, and I felt my back tire slip a little–thus this little post.  I have several different Categories for my writing, and the default is set at Kingdom of God.  I also have a Personal Category.

I was about to unclick the Kingdom of God Category, when I began thinking (I know, that’s a dangerous thing to do) that this IS a Kingdom issue.  I say it is because Citizens of the Kingdom are called to be people who show consideration to all others.  Besides, on my ride into town this evening, I’ve been inspired to write another article.  Watch for it next week.  Now, to my purpose and message for tonight, and hopefully, for the rest of your lives.

PLEASE DO NOT MOW SO THAT THE GRASS BLOWS ONTO THE ROAD OR STREET. WHEN IT IS WET, IT CAN CAUSE A MOTORCYCLE TIRE TO SPIN OR SLIP. WHEN IT’S DRY, IT BLOWS IN OUR EYES, CREATING A HAZARD. PLEASE THINK OF US BIKERS WHEN YOU MOW!!!! Rant over….

Appetizers from Beauty In The Wreckage

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Well, I’ve got one more task to complete.  I’m keeping it as promise and covenant with a friend and brother in Christ.  I’ve just finished reviewing Brandon Andress‘s latest book, Beauty In The Wreckage.  I didn’t use any quotes from the book, but Brandon did give me permission to use quotes.  After prayer, much prayer, I decided to share 1 quote from each chapter.  Man, talk about Tension!  After you read his book (to be released October 9) you may or may not think that was the best quote from the chapter.  Honestly, raw honesty, there are too many to limit it to just one.  So each of these are 1 (of my many favorite) quote that touched my heart.  But you must put these favorite quotes in context, and that comes from the book.  And hopefully, will entice you to get your copy of his latest book:

CHAPTER 1

“Despite the wreckage around us, there is another reality surrounding us, immersing us, in unending life and beauty.  It is a reality that longs to revive our broken and wounded hearts so that they may beat again.  It is a reality that washes over our blinded eyes so that we may see again.  It is a reality that is overflowing and abundant in an ever-present completeness and wholeness and harmony in all things.  It is a reality that straightens every path, that stands against and presses into the dark, hostile and oppressive forces of the world, and extends justice and righteousness for all people.”

CHAPTER 2

(from the Miraculous Sign of Jesus at the wedding in Cana)  “Are you standing at the empty jars and only seeing the impossibility of the situation?  Are you standing at the empty stone jars and thinking about the shame and dishonor and regret and pain and suffering that will ruin the marriage and halt the celebration?  Are you standing at the empty stone jars next to others who are convinced that the party is over and who are already pointing fingers at who is to blame–the man who drank too much, the woman who took two glasses rather that one glass every time she got a refill, those who just showed up but who weren’t invited and drank too much, the person who bought the wine but didn’t buy enough?

At the empty stone jars all seems lost.  All seems bleak.  All seems dire.  There may be some anxiety and stress.  There may be some worry and fear.  There may even be some internal pain and suffering.  What do you see? ……

And it is the marriage of heaven and earth and the celebration continues all around us.  Can you see it?

CHAPTER 3

“The Kingdom of God is Shalom.  It is the life we were always meant to live, because that is the only place where life to the fullest is found.  ……  Shalom is not found in a classroom, earned by religious affiliation or practice, received through the proper steps or handed down from one person to another.  It can only be found by the humble, earnest seeker who simply receives that which has been surrounding them the entire time, the Shalom of God.”

CHAPTER 4

“But even in the darkness, if we are still enough to hear it and patient enough to trust it, there is always the sweet song of the Spirit, leading us in hopeful anticipation, surprising us with beauty in the present and giving us a glimpse of the life that’s yet to come.”

CHAPTER 5

“For if we are to begin this upward ascent from the valley of the shadow of death, it begins with the acknowledgement that we do not want to stay in this place forever.  And it may help you to know that this journey does not require you to leave your aching heart behind.

The end destination for a wounded and broken heart is never the valley of the shadow of death.  We carry this wounded and broken heart with us, upward over the mountain.  And we carry it together, brother.  We carry it together, sister.  The truth is that your pain and suffering can be a transformative passageway, even while your heart aches, even while your spirit groans.  It just requires that we begin this journey together with a humble and open heart.”

CHAPTER 6

“The power of the cross is not some cosmic, unilateral transaction done by God to magically erase our spiritual sins that are floating around somewhere in the cosmos, so that we can say, ‘My sins have been taken away, hallelujah!

The power of the cross is mutual self-emptying.  The power of the cross is mutual self-giving.  The power of the cross is mutual self-sacrifice.   The power of the cross is the defeat of sin, or our disunion with God.  The power of the cross is the union of Divinity and our humanity.  The power of the cross is Shalom.”

CHAPTER 7

“And any movement away from Life in the Divine is a movement toward death.  Death in how we begin to think.  Death in how we begin to live.  Death in how we begin to relate to others.  Since God is life, the One in whom we live and move and have our being, then any movement away from the Life in God is a movement toward death.  It is really that simple.  And it is this death that begins to manifest in our thinking and then outward in our actions, in our relationships, and into our world.”

CHAPTER 8

“For it’s not in seeking more and more stimulation or consumption in which we find great depths in this life.  It is only in a regular rhythm of abstention, whether it be through solitude or silence or even fasting, where the Spirit can awaken our sense to discover and appreciate, moment by moment, all that we so easily take for granted.”

CHAPTER 9

“Shalom always moves beyond the single individual, in a deep and abiding love, for the benefit and care and nourishment of every individual and the larger family.  It is the way this life was always meant to be lived, and still can be.  It is a family that cares so deeply for each other that they are willing to go to any length to demonstrate that love, even if it means their lives.  And it is in this place where the Shalom of God begins to extend far beyond ourselves.”

CHAPTER 10

“Shalom is not a passive, isolated state of being in oneself.  It is an active, transformational, communal movement that is changing the world.  It is only peace that can stop the cycle of verbal and physical aggression.  It is only forgiveness that can stop the cycle of resentment and retaliation.  It is only reconciliation that can stop the cycle of fracturing and dividing.  It is only grace that can stop the cycle of judgment and retribution.  It is only love that can stop the cycle of hatred and cover a multitude.  And it is only the Shalom of God that will save us from ourselves.”

It was tough limiting to one quote per chapter, but like an appetizer, it makes us hungry for the main course.  Remember, October 9–get your copy!

And love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the Glory goes to HIM!

Beauty In The Wreckage–Chapter 10

(This is the next segment in a book I agreed to read and review, Beauty In The Wreckage: Finding Peace In The Age Of Outrage, by Brandon Andress, scheduled to be released October 9.  If you haven’t seen my review of Chapter 1, you can find it HERE;  find Chapter 2 HERE;  Chapter 3 HERE;  Chapter 4 HERE; Chapter 5 HERE; Chapter 6 HERE, Chapter 7 HERE, Chapter 8 HERE, and Chapter 9 HERE. Watch for the rest of the chapter reviews today.  Order your copy starting Oct. 9)

Chapter 10

When Shalom Goes Forth

I’ve mentioned throughout the first nine chapters how Brandon finds eternal truths in analogies using ordinary things.  He has even opened my eyes through these analogies.  But here in this last chapter, Brandon reveals a different side:  that of a Teller Of Parables.  He adds his own unique perspective to a parable that was told some 400 years before Jesus came on the scene by Plato.  He weaves a story and shares a powerful truth like no one, well, except the Master Teller of Parables, Jesus.

Unlike other books on this subject, Brandon brings it home with the challenge for the reader to step away from the old reality of chaos and pain, and into the Beauty of Shalom.  Many other books talks about the problems, but Brandon offers us solutions that undoubtedly lead us into God’s Shalom, provided we take no short-cuts.  Brandon presents no such short-cuts; rather a life long process that doesn’t depend on what we see or feel but depends on the everlasting Grace of God and His unfailing Love.

He challenges us to live out our lives in a new narrative that both acknowledges the pain in our world and how The Healer takes us on a journey of transformation, if we extend to Him the invitation to join in our pain.  It is through this one step at a time that we see that Shalom is not a pipe dream, but God’s Dream for each of us.  But Brandon insists time and time again, that the choice is ours.  God has made His choice and it is for us, not to be against us.

And now it is up to us.  It will not always be easy, this path OF Shalom, but it will be worthwhile, for you, your community, and our culture.  Shalom isn’t what we hold, rather it is what pours our from us.  Shalom is that living water that pours out of our hearts and it spills into the messiness of life as it happens–to us and others.

As much as I have written about Brandon’s raw honesty, I must be honest with you the reader.  This last chapter….it left me in a paradox, a tension (borrowing one of Brandon’s key words) if you would.  I was relieved that this project was about to end…. but now the tension of the paradox….I’m left wanting another chapter, as if I could survive another chapter.  Brandon, know that I meant this in the best way…..and for you who are about to begin reading this book on Oct. 9, you will begin to understand my paradox.  This will be a book you will need to go back to again and again.  I know I will, and I will go back to it again.  And there’s that “Tension” already building up….wanting to read it, but know it will challenge me with the word of Forrest Gump, “Again”!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the Glory goes to HIM!

 

Beauty In The Wreckage–Chapter 9

(This is the next segment in a book I agreed to read and review, Beauty In The Wreckage: Finding Peace In The Age Of Outrage, by Brandon Andress, scheduled to be released October 9.  If you haven’t seen my review of Chapter 1, you can find it HERE;  find Chapter 2 HERE;  Chapter 3 HERE;  Chapter 4 HERE; Chapter 5 HERE; Chapter 6 HERE, Chapter 7 HERE, and Chapter 8 HERE. Watch for the rest of the chapter reviews today.  Order your copy starting Oct. 9)

Chapter 9

Life As Community

Of all that is missing in our culture which has produced this ad nauseam stream of chaos, fear and hate, Brandon makes no excuse for what is needed to experience Shalom:  Living in community TOGETHER, not apart.  And though I’ve said it multiple times, his use of analogies continues to reinforce this powerful message found in page after page of this book.  He reminds us how much we need to learn from the trees.

Community is found in relationships and those fractured relationships in our lives serves only to further fracture our communities.  Brandon realistically share that while not all broken relationships can be restored, it should not keep us from trying to restore our sense of community.  Shalom IS personal, but it is also communal.  Thanks, Brandon, for reminding us of this.  Brandon also reminded me that God longs for restoration of our relationships with each other more than He longs for our worship of Him.

Brandon presents the need for Community Shalom through Jesus’ own words about who was His mother, brother and sisters.  Can you image the change that would happen across communities if people we focused on Shalom through restored relationships.  But, alas, it seems so many would rather remain broken–yet they wonder what happened to Shalom.  If this is you, then you need to read this book–WITH an open mind; otherwise the truth will never resonate with you.

And to keep us aware of our present reality, Brandon interweaves personal stories of how Shalom is threatened and how Shalom can still exist in spite of these interruptions.  I would call Brandon a Spiritual Realist; he sees with clarity the God Shalom but he also sees what gets in our way of Shalom.  But he is never defeated by those things that happen, those things we do, that disrupts Shalom; and neither should we!  There is comfort in numbers, as Brandon reminds us, when our roots are deep in God and connected with each other.  Even when that “other” person falls and falls hard.

And Shalom in our culture as a reality?  It looks messy–and it is messy.  But Brandon never gives up on the hope and TRUTH, that Shalom doesn’t depend on what’s happening around, to us or in us.  It does depend on the faithfulness of God, and the readiness of His People to act with and in SHALOM!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the Glory goes to HIM!

Beauty In The Wreckage–Chapter 8

(This is the next segment in a book I agreed to read and review, Beauty In The Wreckage: Finding Peace In The Age Of Outrage, by Brandon Andress, scheduled to be released October 9.  If you haven’t seen my review of Chapter 1, you can find it HERE;  find Chapter 2 HERE;  Chapter 3 HERE;  Chapter 4 HERE; Chapter 5 HERE; Chapter 6 HERE, and Chapter 7 HERE.  Watch for the rest of the chapter reviews today.  Order your copy starting Oct. 9)

Chapter 8

Living As The Presence

Rather than going on and on with images of brokenness and then restoration, as so many books and blogs do today, Brandon reaches out to us with the hope that comes from making our own decision to invite Shalom into our lives.  So many people waste time focusing on what’s wrong rather than focusing on what is present right now among us, but what so many choose to ignore:  Shalom.  Shalom is all around us.  Argue with that truth or disbelieve this truth–it’s still Truth.

And if this book wasn’t personal enough, Brandon challenges us to not only invite God’s Shalom into our hearts, but also to share God’s Shalom in this angry, distrustful, and fearful culture.  (If you doubt my description of our current culture being angry, distrustful and hateful, have you not been listening to the U.S. Senate confirmation hearing?????)

In the first subsection of this chapter is a powerful heading of 2 words:  Human Doings.  Not human “beings” but human DOINGS!  He brings to light that people measure life by what they do or what is happening around them, rather than accepting the Shalom that surrounds us.  Busyness has replaced consciousness is the truth Brandon carefully paints with his words.

Here in this chapter we are faced with a choice:  remain busy but unfulfilled or be still in the presence of God where abundant life, and even more abundant Shalom is found.  Brandon reminds us of both the importance of the power and the hope found by being still and in solitude with God.  His real life experiences bring this truth into focus.  We may not be able to go to Alaska or the Grand Canyon, but we can find those places where solitude with God overwhelms our busyness in life.

His challenge of using all of our physical senses to experience the Divine, well, Brandon has hit the center ring.  I’m left feeling that this is where I am missing Shalom and why I fail to bring Shalom with me in too many places where life happens.  May I learn to practice what Brandon has discovered.  May it be so, oh Lord, may it be so….

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the Glory goes to HIM!

Beauty In The Wreckage–Chapter 7

(This is the next segment in a book I agreed to read and review, Beauty In The Wreckage: Finding Peace In The Age Of Outrage, by Brandon Andress, scheduled to be released October 9.  If you haven’t seen my review of Chapter 1, you can find it HERE;  find Chapter 2 HERE;  Chapter 3 HERE;  Chapter 4 HERE; Chapter 5 HERE; and Chapter 6 HERE. Watch for the rest of the chapter reviews today.  Order your copy starting Oct. 9)

Chapter 7

Shalom As Transformation

One of the many consistent themes throughout this book has been Brandon’s raw honesty with his personal feelings and emotions.  This chapter continues that theme.  Personally, I will read what a person writes that comes from those feelings and emotions and set aside any book written in the sterile library environment.  Nothing sterile here in this chapter but an honesty that we would all benefit from if we practiced in on ourselves.  It is this raw honesty that assures the reader that the possibility, no, THE ASSURANCE THAT SHALOM will indeed happen to them–even if they can’t see how.

In this chapter Brandon invites the readers on a journey to transformation, NOT a quick-fix-for-whatever-ails-you.  He doesn’t define the journey in number steps, such as 1-12.  Instead he points us in the direction of where Shalom is more than a concept; and more that an occasional experience.  He gives us the GPS markers that take us closer to what we, the wounded, need most of all:  Shalom/Peace.  He makes room and gives us the freedom to be the unique person created by God in this journey to transformation.

Brandon invites the reader to admit that we are all on some journey.  And journey is moving either in the direction of death or in the direction of life, life that produces Shalom.  He clearly points out what I perceive as the root of the fear and hate in our current culture which is, that we place our perceived worth in the hands of how many like or follow us.  We have mistakenly made social media the same as our identity and worth as a person, and as Brandon points out, it only leads us to more wreckage.

He brings this truth home with a chapter subtitle:  See Differently, Be Differently.  He brings this point to light with his connection to Jesus’ parable of the Seeds and the Sower.  I’ll leave it at that so that you can read his words without my words influencing how you see if Jesus’ parable fits what you are facing.

And there’s more, so much more I could say, but I need to refrain in order for each reader to hear the message that God has for them.  This is one of the things that I find in this chapter which is so powerful–the guidance to experience, meditate, and think about where you are in your journey.  However, I would encourage you to spend more than one reading on the section, Rethinking Repentance.  He shatters the stereotypical image that many have about repentance and brings home the true meaning of Repentance, the kind of repentance that Jesus called forth from His listeners, and from us today.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the Glory goes to HIM!

Beauty In The Wreckage–Chapter 6

(This is the next segment in a book I agreed to read and review, Beauty In The Wreckage: Finding Peace In The Age Of Outrage, by Brandon Andress, scheduled to be released October 9.  If you haven’t seen my review of Chapter 1, you can find it HERE;  find Chapter 2 HERE;  Chapter 3 HERE; Chapter 4 HERE; and Chapter 5 HERE .  Watch for the rest of the chapter reviews today.  Order your copy starting Oct. 9)

Chapter 6

Prayer As Breathing

The analogies that Brandon finds bring both focus and reflection on the part of the reader.  Chapter 6 is no except with his imagery of breathing.  He uses this analogy of breathing is a unique way that is clearly Brandon’s heart and mind. I know I will not think about my breathing the same way.  And again it comes down to recognition–of the presence of The Healer smack dab in the middle of life, and especially our pain and wounds.

And he faithfully stands by a theme repeated many times over.  Finding the beauty, experiencing the Shalom, is neither automatic nor is it easy every time.  Truthfully, I can agree with him that there are times, moments, circumstances, situation where not only is it a struggle to pray, but it feels impossible.  But Brandon guides us away from what I call “formal-King-James-praying-only-in-certain-settings-and-praying-the-same-prayers” to the king of praying that pastor, writer and teacher Maxie Dunman writes about:  Prayer As A Life, Not A Separate Function.

At this point, I am going to insert something that struck me with Brandon’s words.  It may or may not have been the lesson he wanted to teach, but it struck a chord with me.  Shalom doesn’t come to us without an invitation from us.  I think our culture, especially religious culture, believes, expects and demands Shalom to just come upon us.  Not to say it doesn’t happen that way sometimes–that Shalom just dumps upon us like an unexpected summer rain storm, but when we are in the wreckage, Shalom must be invited to come because, truthfully, most want the pain and the wound.  I say this because they cling to it and refuse to offer it up to The Healer.

Brandon reminded me of something that serious bass fishermen/women do called “Catch and Release.”  He calls by a different name:  Release and Receive.  Here is the message for those who go through life holding on the pain and disappointment.  It takes more than naming our wound, but releasing it to The Healer and consciously receiving what He offer us:  Deep, intimate and faithful communion with us.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the Glory goes to Him!

Beauty In The Wreckage–Chapter 5

(This is the next segment in a book I agreed to read and review, Beauty In The Wreckage: Finding Peace In The Age Of Outrage, by Brandon Andress, scheduled to be released October 9.  If you haven’t seen my review of Chapter 1, you can find it HERE;  find Chapter 2 HERE;  Chapter 3 HERE; and Chapter 4 HERE.  Watch for the rest of the chapter reviews today.  Order your copy starting Oct. 9)

Chapter 5

The Possibility of Joy

Immediately in Chapter 5 Brandon strikes the chords of hope for all of us in this wreckage.  The imagery and analogy are inspired:  an iceberg!  I have never thought of an iceberg as an image of hope.  I guess my thinking is still tainted by April 15, 1912.  If you’re not a fan of trivia, that’s when the Titanic sank.  I now see that I allow myself to be defined by the 10% seen, which is suffering, and not the 90% that lies beneath the surface, wherein lies much more.  What is unseen is the hurt and the pain.  But Brandon reminds there can be more beneath the surface than just the pain, if we open our eyes to Shalom.

Brandon carefully and thoroughly brings to light so much that wounds and creates the wreckage in our life.  But he does not offer the empty promise that acknowledgement is the beginning of healing.  He is very clear that it takes more than an admission of the pain.  And he holds us accountable to how we respond to the pain–do we hold on to it and consider it final or do we release it to the One who has both the skill and power, wisdom and compassion, to restore the beauty of Shalom?

I also was blown over in this chapter by Brandon’s insight about transformation.  He points out that somehow religion has asserted and taught that transformation cannot begin until the hurt is over.  Brandon liberates us from this chain by reminding us that the transformation begins in the middle of our pain, not at the end of it.  And as he does throughout this book, he let’s us see that 90% of his life that is like the iceberg.  His insights, as I’ve stated before, are not born in a sterile library, but in the messiness of life as it happens to him….and to us!

 Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the Glory goes to HIM!

 

Beauty In The Wreckage–Chapter 4

(This is the next segment in a book I agreed to read and review, Beauty In The Wreckage: Finding Peace In The Age Of Outrage, by Brandon Andress, scheduled to be released October 9.  If you haven’t seen my review of Chapter 1, you can find it HERE  find Chapter 2 HERE, and Chapter 3 HERE and apologies to Brandon for getting behind.  Watch for the rest of the chapter reviews today.  Order your copy starting Oct. 9)

Chapter 4

A More Beautiful Suffering

For me, this chapter contains a forgotten truth that will become the beginning of the turning point for those who find themselves amidst the wreckage of life as it happens.  The forgotten truth is that pain and suffering does not spell the end to beauty in life.  Rather it is the portal through which we can begin to see beauty.  Notice I did not say “See beauty again.”  Brandon clearly delineates that suffering is NOT beautiful but how we view our suffering, ultimately determines if we can see not only “beauty”, but the greatest of all beauties:  the living Presence of our Heavenly Father.

Once again Brandon does not over simplify the pain that the wreckage produces, nor does he offer simple platitudes and Facebook’s cute sayings.  But through his insights and words, he does reveal the simple truth that is liberating for everyone who finds their life in the midst of this wreckage.  Brandon presents, in his own words, “another reality”.  When you finish reading this chapter you WILL be at a defining moment in your life:  Will your reality be your pain, or will the reality be with the Healer of our pains?  The challenging way he writes leaves the reader no escape when it comes to answering this most important question.

He speaks and writes out of his own experiences.  He does not write from theories and hypotheses, but makes himself vulnerable to the reader with his raw honesty.  There’s only one other writer that presents honesty more raw than Brandon–Solomon and his book Ecclesiastes.  The Goal is Shalom, but with kindness and compassion, reminds us all that there can be no Shalom until we bring the hurt, that “wound”, to the Healer and then allow The Healer do what HE does best:  Setting prisoners free!

Here is what I would consider yet another great profound yet forgotten truth in our culture.  Not in a condemning way, Brandon points out that our current culture doesn’t understand suffering.  It is indeed often trivialized and this only leads to that deeper despair when real and deep suffering occurs.  Our culture’s obsession with avoiding suffering has resulting most people seeing suffering as an end and destination, rather than a means to something better.

A closing thought:  Brandon does not encourage us to seek suffering; but to seek the one who is THE Expert in redemption and transformation.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!