Desolation and Purgation in the Wilderness
“Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O you righteous, and shout for joy all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:10-11)
It is easy for me to think more highly of myself than I should. I need not look far to make comparisons to my former self and see that I am not the man I once was. I am leaps and bounds a better man than I was. This truth is affirmed from the lips and words of others too…I do not lie. I am a better man than I used to be. There are a couple problems with this.
Problem number one is the comparison I make is an invalid comparison; it might be an accurate comparison, but it is an invalid one. The way of the Christian journey is not one looking back at my former self, but it is a journey looking forward and following the Christ who is now my model and the image I seek to become more like. In the case of this example, I am no longer a better man. I am a man marked by humility, frail in comparison to the Christ I follow and endeavor to be made like.
The second problem with thinking more highly of myself is in the self-righteous attitude that I am a “good” Christian…or that I have attained a level of maturity. This too might be true, but at the point that I begin to think this of myself, I am in danger of being fed lies from the false self. It is comforting and satisfying to think I have arrived at a destination or reached a new plateau in my Christian journey. It can be an exhilarating and self-important to think I know more than others…maybe even to the point that I don’t have to do certain exercises or participate in certain disciplines. This is a dangerous place to be spiritually and exactly the reason an excursion exercise that takes me into the “desert” with Jesus is a good thing for me.
Reading again today from the Book of Deuteronomy revealed how resolute God was in his instruction about “purging” the evil from amongst the people of Israel. The following references seem only to scratch the surface of the point I make:
*Deut. 17:7 So you shall purge the evil from your midst…
*Deut. 17:12 So you shall purge the evil from Israel…
*Deut. 19:13 You shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel…
*Deut. 19:19 You shall purge the evil from your midst…
The same is true for me as was true for Israel; of this I am sure. God is just as resolute about “purging the evil from me” as He is/was about Israel. Where there are vestiges of the old man, the false self in me, God desires to make it known so it can be dealt with and purged from my midst. This type of purgation can take place in the solitary and desolate place—being alone with God—tuning out the noises of the world and its busy-ness. The problem we often have with this line of thinking is the point I was trying to shed light on earlier. We do not like inconvenience or sacrifice. We like comfort, warm-fuzzies, and hearing affirmation from people as well as God. The truth; however, might be more difficult for us to come to terms with. Hear the words of Kathleen Norris:
“If grace is so wonderful, why do we have such difficulty recognizing and accepting it? Maybe it’s because grace is not gentle or made-to-order. It often comes disguised as loss, or failure, or unwelcome change.”
Those words smart, probably because they are full of truth. If I accept the notion that I need purging of evil, that means I have not arrived. I might not be who I think I am. I might not be the image I have created for everyone to see. A trip into the “desert” may involve elements of change that I do not want to incorporate into my life. These are some of the means by which God pours out His grace to me; they are definitive places God has ordained to meet with me. It is needful for me and good for me to accept His invitation. My backpack is ready. Into the desert we go.
A Prayer for the 1st Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Jesus for President? Probably not…
Political Post Warning…
I’m feeling frisky, so I thought I’d share some musings on this day, our presidential election, in our United States of America. Since I am unashamedly a follower of Messiah Jesus, I thought I’d post a few thoughts from a Christian perspective.
I’ve seen quite a few thoughts around the web that invoke the idea of “vote for Jesus” or “Jesus for president” and other similar inferences like making the most “informed Christian” vote (that is assuming your or my vote would be most closely aligned with who Jesus would vote for. And this assumes He would vote at all—but that is another conversation).
First, let me say that I voted and I believe in the process, even as flawed as it might be; I’m glad I get to vote on the leadership in this nation.
Now, onto the idea of Jesus for president…
Really? I wonder how long Jesus would last if he were really voted in. Let’s hypothetically assume the United States is a Christian nation, and let’s take it one step further and assume that every United States citizen professes themselves aligned with Christianity as their faith affiliation.
First, it is my opinion that Jesus would not be voted in at all if the things he taught and the things he did were reported through the media as are most other presidential candidates.
If good communication skills are a prerequisite and being able to clearly dictate a position are necessary to win over voters, I don’t think Jesus would have scored very high even though we call him a great orator. He said that he chose to deliberately speak in parables so some people would hear him clearly and others would not (see Luke 8).
According to the gospels, Jesus doesn’t seem to be very keen on capitalism, free market systems, amassing fortunes, or retirement plans. In fact, he once told a story about a man who had raised a bumper crop of wheat. The man figured he’d done well and could retire on his efforts and earnings only to be called a “fool” and have his life taken by God that very night (Luke 12:13-21). Additionally, the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the gospels seem to favor Socialism over the Free Market system that fuels most of the American Dream.
Many people like to believe that Jesus is “fair” and universal in his approach toward helping humanity, but the gospels teach differently about this perception as well. Jesus was often in the midst of great crowds, but we’re only told of two accounts where he fed the masses. I’m reasonably sure there were more than three people that he was aware of who died in the places he traveled, but we’re only told of three that he raised from the dead. In the early pages of Mark’s Gospel we read that Jesus healed all that were brought to him in one day, yet on the morning of the next day, he left people who wanted and needed healing with their disease and sickness telling his disciples he had to go to the next city… “this is not the reason I have come” (Mark 1:29-39). Then there was the scene at the pool of Bethseda; where John recounts there were “many invalids there,” yet Jesus chose to heal only one… (John 5:1-13) and this does not even take into account that Jesus broke the law of the land to heal this man by healing him on the Sabbath.
Certainly my words sound somewhat facetious; it is a literary tool to help us consider our own motives and political positions, but in reality Jesus was a radical that not too many people would be happy with as a president. What if he came to you and demanded you sell all your possessions to give to the poor? What if he advised you the only way you could be part of his country/kingdom was to give up all your status and become a servant to all? What if he announced the only way you could keep your life was to sacrifice it for someone who despised you? I think most people would say; “Jesus, you’re out of your flipping mind…” kinda the same way people thought when he told them his body and blood were real food and drink (John 6:22-59).
He tells us if someone asks for our tunic, give it to them and your shirt too. He says if someone asks you to carry their load a mile, carry it two. If someone cracks you on the jaw, turn your cheek and offer it to them so your bruising will be symmetrical. People say Jesus never wants anyone to be a doormat for others, but this is exactly what he made of himself….and still does today. He is the gate and the doormat to the kingdom of God and He invites us to follow Him.
I think it sounds nice and spiritually self-righteous to say “Jesus for President!” I don’t think it is very heartfelt or realistic, unless of course it is some other Jesus that we are talking about that isn’t the Jesus mentioned in the Holy Scriptures.
Oh, and don’t think for a minute, that I’m not talking about myself here too. I’m as guilty as the next person who wants their proverbial “cake and to eat it too.” I want to follow the Jesus in the Scriptures, and I call myself trying, but I also see the enormous chasm between his teachings and my reality. If Jesus were on the ballot, I’m not sure I would be prepared to vote for him…especially after reading his campaign promises in the gospels.
Jesus for president? Let me think on that awhile.
I’ve been sitting on this post for awhile now. I wasn’t sure how to articulate my thoughts; honestly, I’m still not sure I know how. I’ve been thinking a lot lately…about a bunch of things, but especially about sin—the nature, the inner and outer manifestations, the collateral effects—and ultimately, the bottom line of it all
I think that when we talk about sin, we talk about it too broadly and too generically. When we do attempt to focus in on sin, we will often isolate subjective manifestations of sin like vices, behaviors, social maladies, and the like. There are isolated and rare occasions when the topic of “original sin” is discussed where Adam’s disobedience and the subsequent fall of man is cast as the source of humanity’s sin. It is my opinion while there is some validity in all these points, we are still missing the mark…and this, I think, is the real or root problem. We miss the mark.
It is helpful for us to have a working definition of the word “sin” before we proceed. In the Old Testament there are several words that we translate to the English word “sin.” My studies revealed one of the more prominent words, and many derivatives of it, used to describe sin is the Hebrew word “chata,” which means to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness; to miss oneself, lose oneself, wander from the way. I think several of these possible meanings really strike a chord in me; particularly “lose oneself” and “wander from the way.” A second word from the Old Testament and the Hebrew is “râ‛âh.” This word is used more than 600 times and is most often translated as “evil” or “bad” ([Strong's #7451]). While the word “sin” is rarely, if ever, translated from it, it still carries the implication of something that is contrary to God’s nature and I think this is the important piece. Our actions that are translated as “evil” and “bad” are contrary to God’s nature. Finally, there is the New Testament use of the word “sin” translated from the Greek word “hamartia,” which means literally, “to miss the mark.”
What I gleaned from these word studies is that our approach toward understanding sin and our subsequent way of dealing with it might be askew. As I mentioned earlier, generally speaking, we talk about sin in a broadly generic manner. We label sin as things we do, attitudes of the mind and heart, and conditions of life that are other than what we expect in our “best case” ideals. All of these are subjectively interpreted and potential outward manifestations of sin… not sin themselves. I know that statement will get some resistance, but hear me out.
The actual definitions from the primary words for sin in the Hebrew and Greek texts are “missing the way” or “missing the mark.” We might do well to consider what the “way” or the “mark” is that we have missed.
The Bible teaches us from the very beginning that we are created in the Imago Dei or image of God. We are supposed to be reflections of our Creator in all our ways. This was and is the intent of our God, that we would be His image bearer, and anything less than an accurate reflection of Him… His Image, is sin. When we fail to “look like God,” we sin. We miss the mark. I realize that my statements disturb the thinking of people, but this is what the Bible teaches from beginning to end. In the earliest chapters of Genesis, we read that we are imago dei, and then through disbelief and disobedience, Adam (the first man) becomes a broken image of God (missing the mark). Adam and wife, Eve, are expelled from the presence of God to pass on their brokenness to all future generations. The covenant promise of God though, is that God will present humankind with a means of restoring the imago dei through the redemptive work of Messiah Jesus. Ultimately, the promise, for those who will receive it, is complete recovery of the God Image… “we’ll be like he is” (1 John 3:2-3).
I think one of the greatest mistakes we have made in our Christian discipleship efforts is to inaccurately define and describe sin as actions, attitudes, things we do and things we feel. Describing and defining sin as wrong behavior, evil, socially unacceptable acts, vices, alternative lifestyles, etc. are all subjective and judgmental perspectives and lead to performance expectations and measurements. Our incorrect definition creates an incorrect diagnosis of the problem, and with errant diagnosis comes wrong treatment… Our efforts tend to lean toward correcting and managing behavior over recovering the imago dei and becoming Christ-like. Ultimately, wrong treatment begets no change at best and digression at worst.
A Belief Problem
I think many people push back against recovering God’s image as their own, because it seems preposterous to them to believe it is possible or attainable. It seems much more plausible to embark on a self-help or self-healing program to make a better “me” than to become like Jesus…like God, but Scripture is very clear that “becoming like Christ” and recovering our reflection of Him is the goal. The following are just a smattering of Scripture verses pointing to the claim of recovering the imago dei.
- Created in God’s image; Imago Dei (Genesis 1:27-28, 5:1-3)
- Deuteronomy 30:11-14 – This command is not too hard for you to reach
- Ezekiel 36:26 – I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.
- Jeremiah 31:33 – write my commandments on your heart
- Colossians 1:15-16 - the Son is the image of the invisible God…
- 1 John 2:3-6 – we must walk as Jesus walked…
- 1 John 3:2-3 – We’ll be like he is
- 1 John 5:3 – His commands are not burdensome…
I’m still thinking about what all this means to me. I do know this for myself… to think of sin in the terms of what I do (actions and attitude) propels me in a wrong direction where I continue to miss the mark. First, I cannot cure myself. Second, I don’t know what to cure since my diagnosis is based upon my own interpretation of the problem…which is misguided in the first place. If my “mark” is not God, then my mark will be my own ideal or another human, who is likely to be misguided and missing the mark too. Only Christ is my standard. Only Christ can help me to reach that standard.
Will I ever reach the mark? Will I ever not sin? I think in terms of what I strive for, I reach the mark when I start living to attain it. As I follow Jesus, I am reaching for the prize that is the mark of Christ. I stop sinning as I reach for and follow after Christ because I am recovering the imago dei. As I surrender to the Spirit of God who dwells within me, I am living under the Image of the God who Created me and this might even be closer to recovering the imago dei than even I am fully capable of realizing on this side of eternity.
I’m still thinking on this and I’m sure I’ll revisit the post a time or two or three or…
Book Review: Sifted
Author: Wayne Cordeiro
I found Sifted to be an engaging and solid read. I appreciated the content, finding it vulnerable, valuable, and viable. Wayne Cordeiro is the primary author of Sifted, but has contributing assistance from Francis Chan and Larry Osborne. Each of these men has wisdom and experience to offer in the area of being “sifted.” Each of them has planted churches and worked through the development stages therein and they have all faced various challenges along the way. This, I believe, is one of the strengths of this book. Not only is the content tried and true, but it is measured and retold from multiple experiences and perspectives… very valuable and insightful sharing.
The book follows a three-part outline. My interpretation and alliteration tool for understanding the movement through the outline was assessment, awareness, and action plan. The assessment piece of part one is taking a personal inventory of self, understanding the nature of sifting and getting a good look at where you are and how you got there. I believe this is the proverbial thirty-thousand foot view. Part two is the logical progression to awareness and nurture of our basic needs… those things that help to anchor us (marriage, family, rest, recreation, etc.). Part three was, to me, about action and purpose. As I was reading the chapters of part three, I was reminded of the words of the apostle Paul to the young pastor Timothy; “So, my son, throw yourself into this work for Christ. Pass on what you heard from me—the whole congregation saying Amen!—to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others. When the going gets rough, take it on the chin with the rest of us, the way Jesus did. A soldier on duty doesn’t get caught up in making deals at the marketplace. He concentrates on carrying out orders. An athlete who refuses to play by the rules will never get anywhere. It’s the diligent farmer who gets the produce. Think it over. God will make it all plain” (2 Timothy 2:1-7 MSG). Although the words and context are different, I think the intent is the same; as a leader-minister moves forward, they do so with character, integrity, diligence, and an attitude of purposeful perseverance.
Pros: I enjoyed the perspective shifts and the insight from the various contributors (Cordeiro, Chan, and Osborne). I think this is one of the primary strengths of the book. I also like that action steps and interactive sections were included at the end of the chapters…it helps to engage the reading introspectively even if they do not pursue the steps literally. The book was written in an easy-to-read format; there were numerous side-bars, short quotes, anecdotes, and sub-headings. This style of writing or format makes for shorter reading sessions with easy start and stop points providing a break to consider what the author was trying to convey.
Cons: I think the material is as valuable for the “everyday Joe” as it is for the stressed ministry leader and/or church planter. I think many people might miss the value of the wisdom and experience in this book because it might be perceived as being a bit narrow in focus for its audience. I believe with a minor bit of effort and editing, this book might appeal to an even larger audience.
I recommend it for anyone, not only ministry leaders.
Book Review: Thin Places
Authors: Jon Huckins w/ Rob Yackley
Published by: The House Studio
I purchased this book because I’m interested in intentional Christian communities. I read it and I come away with the feeling of… hmmm… okay. I think this is good. No, I think this is great and here’s why. Thin Places is not selling hype, glitz, glam or gimmick. What the NieuCommunities is sharing in their Thin Places experience is real life, everyday life, plain old life… that is, as plain as living life under the authority and mission of the Almighty God of all Creation can be.
The book is about community and I learned about community from it, but it is not about the “nuts and bolts” of establishing or managing an intentional community. There is some of that, but more, the book is about attitude of mind and heart. The sub-title of the book reveals this attitude in these words; “6 Postures for Creating & Practicing Missional Community.” The introduction of the book does well to establish the tone and the pace for the chapters that follow with these words:
Cloaked in the covering of covenant community, we pilgrimage through each of the following posture as learners and practitioners:
Listening: We desire to be attuned to God, to self, and to our neighborhood.
Submerging: We desire to embody Jesus in our neighborhood while participating in an apprenticing community.
Inviting: We desire to grasp the depth of God’s invitation to kingdom life and to become more inviting and invited people while welcoming our neighbors into God’s redemptive story.
Contending: We desire to confront the things that hinder the full expression of the kingdom of God, both spiritual and natural, in our community, among our friends and neighbors, and in our city.
Imagining: We desire to discern God’s intent on our lives and help shape transformational faith communities.
Entrusting: We desire to entrust people to God and to others, celebrate our deeper understanding of God’ call on our lives, and lean confidently into our future. (p.28)
This is Thin Places. The remainder of the book walks the reader in a contemplative, yet practical, example of what it means to live in this nieu-monastic posture of “life intertwined” as emissaries of Christ in the heart of the neighborhood/community in which he draws and plants you. I found Thin Places a practical, real, and beautiful story. It is the story I’m pursuing for my own life and hope to find a group of people committed to living out this everyday way of faith.
I loved the ending words from the back cover of the book and find them appropriate to conclude this review; “Through Thin Places, create a fertile soil to commune with God, live in deep community with others, and extend the good news of the kingdom in your local contexts.” Yes. Thin Places might awaken you to do exactly that.
Book Review: The Walk
Author: Stephen Smallman
Publisher: P&R Publishing ISBN: 9781596380936
I’ve had The Walk: Steps for New and Renewed Followers of Jesus in my possession for awhile now. I’m just getting around to reading it. Written by Stephen Smallman, The Walk is a book written to those who have expressed a desire to follow Christ as his disciple. It assumes no prior understanding of what that means, nor does it assume that the person has actually come to the point of professing faith. The book is designed to be used as much as read. It will be helpful to someone who wants to read on his own, but also includes readings and projects that will make it useful as a workbook for that individual, in a mentor relationship, or for use in groups. This is the information provided by the publisher to describe the book.
I suppose all this is true, well, and good, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the book. Will it work as it has been described? I’m relatively sure it will; the information, the flow of learning, and the structure of the process is all solid material… it just seemed there was much missing for my tastes. And again, I must repeat this is crafted as a beginner book…my expectations are probably much higher even for that of a “beginner” work.
I think the steps outlined by Smallman for a discipleship path are honest steps; however, I think the perspective is rather narrow as it is presented wholly from a reformed perspective. I don’t mean to imply this is a negative critique, but the person using this book should be aware of this detail if they are not already. The Church as one body under the headship of Christ is very robust and has a very diverse and colorful history. The traditions of the Christian church are a bountiful buffet to be feasted upon by new and old believers alike. Why attend a smorgasbord with almost unlimited spiritual delights to feast upon and spend your entire appetite on a three-bean salad?
The Walk is written to be a “first steps book” for discipleship teaching. It is also written so it can be done as an individual study or a group. In this, the book excels and Stephen is to be commended. I think, though, if I were choosing a curriculum for new disciples, I would select a source that had a more well-rounded theology. I particularly like Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful by Gary A. Parrett and S. Steve Kang. Parrett and Kang’s book is much more inclusive and exhaustive with material that pushes way past first steps, but I believe the material it contains could be excerpted and used for a beginner disciple in the same way as The Walk and still have room to grow.
My assessment of The Walk = good and practical, but not great. I would choose something different for my purposes.
Publisher’s Description: The Walk is a book written to those who have expressed a desire to follow Christ as his disciple. It assumes no prior understanding of what that means, nor does it assume that the person has actually come to a point of professing faith. It uses as a starting point someone who is simply wondering, “what next?”. Stephen also addresses those who have grown up “Christian” and may be wondering how to step out in their own faith. The Walk is designed to be used as much as read. It will be helpful to someone who wants to read on their own, but also includes readings and projects that will make it useful as a workbook for that individual, in a mentor relationship, or for use in groups. The division into twelve chapters is ideal for a typical Sunday School quarter.
Published September 2009
About the Author: Stephen Smallman served for over forty years in pastoral ministry and has served as executive director of World Harvest Mission. He currently teaches for CityNet Ministries of Philadelphia
[19MAR2012] Lent 2012: Day 27—Reflection and Meditation
“Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the LORD. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt.’”
I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground… Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
It is an amazing thing that God wants to do with us… be in relationship. Infinite God who knew no beginning and knows no end… Amazing Creator and Sustainer of all things. Who is man? What is man? We are born with the spark of God within us; each of us bearing the mark of his and her Creator and each of us being “whispered” to by this Creator to “come back to Me… allow Me to heal you and recover your image that is perfect in Me.” Yes, amazing it is. One wonders then, why we are so hard headed and hard hearted to appeal to this courtship of re-imaging. Why do we rebuff the advances of the most passionate and romantic of Lovers? How is it that we are so quick to “jump ship” from the most perfect of all Love cruises? I think Augustine sheds light on the why of our fickleness.
People love truth when it shines on them and hate it when it rebukes them. For, because they are not willing to be deceived but definitely want to practice the art of deception, they love truth when it reveals itself and hate it when it reveals them. -Augustine; Confessions
Perhaps this is why we don’t like to get too close to the Lover of our souls. The Light is Bright and the Light is True. If we approach it with regularity, we will be made known and we will be purged. This is not an easy path, but it is good and it is right. We can choose to be tested and made whole or we can resist testing and remain “scattered in the wilderness.”
By: Jamie Arpin-Ricci
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830836352
It’s hard for me to determine where to start with my review of The Cost of Community. I’ve been “living” with the book now for several weeks. It isn’t a slow or difficult read, but it has been extremely stirring for me; it has been personal, inspiring, convicting, challenging, and prophetic. Yes, I have been stirred and in a good way. I suppose I should start with some of the basic book review details and then proceed from there.
Summary: Written by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, C.J., The Cost of Community is about realizing, believing, interpreting, and putting into practice Jesus’ great message from the Sermon on the Mount. Jaime, who is part of an Anglican lay order in the Franciscan tradition, calls back to the time of St. Francis of Assisi who heard the message of Christ’s Sermon and challenged the church and culture of his day by embracing the spirit of Jesus’ words and structuring his life around them. Francis truly believed he was to “give up all things” so he might find his life in the full in the crucified Christ. Fast forward to today and Jaime Arpin-Ricci with friends, neighbors, and the family of Little Flowers Community in urban Winnipeg also hear the call of Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, ordering their lives after this model of God’s Kingdom on earth. This book offers insights and experience about life together in the spirit of Jesus’ teaching; what it offers us, and what it demands of us.
And, so it begins. In a nutshell, the book is about the reality of living the Sermon on the Mount …today—really. This is what makes the book more than just an exposition or commentary on the Sermon, and in my opinion, so much more believable and “gripping.” I identify with and appreciate the words of Sean Gladding who wrote; “Jamie Arpin-Ricci holds our feet to the fire with the humility of one who himself continues to wrestle with the implications of taking Jesus at his word.” This is the Sermon on the Mount come alive.
The introduction and first chapter are important pieces for the remainder of the book; these introductory pieces help the reader to understand the position from which the rest of the book will be filtered and examined. The premise is that Jesus meant for us to do what he taught us, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. This premise might be somewhat polarizing considering there are a great many Christians who idealize the Sermon on the Mount and consider its call beyond the reach or attainment of mortal humans. Arpin-Ricci brings some of these arguments to bear in his introductory statements citing a number of sources, including a particularly acerbic statement from G. K. Chesterton who is quoted saying, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
The next several chapters are spent in reflection on the Blessings of the Beatitudes. Jamie artfully weaves historical accounts from the life of St. Francis and personal experiences from the Little Flowers Community into the reflections on the “Blessings.” Assuring us these blessings are not just lofty-heavenly ideals, but earthy and gritty invitations to partake in the Kingdom of God now, the stories of Francis and Little Flowers help the reader to embrace the blessings in their own context of life…it did for me.
Chapters six through ten move into the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. While the opening chapters invite us to enter into the blessings of the Kingdom of God on earth, gritty as it may be, chapters six through ten share how the kingdom looks and operates in a world that pushes opposite the Kingdom of God. This entire section was riveting for me; challenging and convicting me through each chapter and sub-heading. I was especially touched by sections discussing “Love your enemies” (pp. 122-125), “Hiding in Plain Sight” (chapter 8), and some beautiful stories about “Francis” and “Jimmy” from the chapter “The Disciple’s Prayer” (chapter 9).
Jamie’s exposition, experiences, and personal reflection on Jesus’ words from Matthew chapter seven (chapters 11-12) are probably the most poignant and challenging for me in the entire book. It is here he discusses the concepts of humility, surrender, mutual submission to one another as the heart of what Jesus’ invitation to us is all about; “Come, follow me” (come and die, so you might experience resurrection life). There is nothing in this call that is ethereal and idealistic. It (The Call of Christ) is the “gritty” and the real, the absolute and total surrender of all today for the promise of all tomorrow, and the realization that without the “grace of the God who invites” there is no way in heaven or earth that we can follow.
Some ten years ago I was in a lengthy study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I had been a big fan of the works of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and decided to purchase his work, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. This was the beginning of the end for me. I have been and continue to be forever broken by the Sermon on the Mount. I mention this resource in passing to point out the wonderful resources that are included at the close of the book. Jaime has provided a very generous list of recommended reading covering the Sermon on the Mount, The Beatitudes, The Lord’s Prayer, and St. Francis and the Franciscans. While reading lists can be subjective, I was encouraged and affirmed by the realization that I too have been impacted in a very positive way by many of the same books. I heartily endorse his list and to it I would add Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and Oswald Chambers’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.
I mentioned earlier that this book would likely polarize people and I think by the end of the book that is what the outcome will be. There will be some who will shrug and think “that’s a nice idea, but I don’t think that’s very realistic” and there will be others who will be broken, as I am… who think, “I know and in my deepest heart have known this is the life Christ has called me to live” and as Francis did so many years ago, determine to abandon all so that they may follow Christ to the full. I am hopeful you enjoy and are challenged as much as I have been by this book.
Book Review: Walking as Jesus Walked
By: Dann Spader
Published By: Moody Publishers ISBN: 9780802447098
A few weeks back I received an offer to participate in an evaluation of a new study on the life and teaching of Jesus. The devotional study is titled, Walking as Jesus Walked: Making Disciples the Way Jesus Did; it is authored by Dann Spader and published by Moody Publishers. Our family is always open to new study and devotional material, so I thought this would be a great way to start the New Year and enter the season of Epiphany with a study on the discipleship ministry of Jesus.
We’ve had almost two full weeks of engagement with Walking as Jesus Walked and I believe I can say on behalf of our three-person group, all of us are enjoying it. I base my group assessment on the amount of lively dialogue we have been having most mornings as we discuss the questions and ponder the Scripture passages we read with each study lesson.
Form and Function:
The study is crafted to meet the needs of a diverse demographic. It can be used as an individual devotional study with the workbook serving as an interactive journal or it can be used for any number and styles of group study. Also, I think the questions and format of the lessons are written in such a way that they are understandable to a broad age range, easily from high school age youth to any adult. And, I wouldn’t hesitate to say I think the study could be used for elementary and middle schoolers with some minor tweaking of the discussion questions.
The workbook study is arranged in daily lessons designed to span a period of 10-weeks. The author and support team have invested much in providing a number of helpful resources for the Walking as Jesus Walked study. A website has been created that hosts, or links to, online and downloadable help tools; there are free videos available introducing each of the 10-week lesson topics and a free leader’s guide has been provided that can also be downloaded or used online.
As mentioned earlier, my family is enjoying this study and we are challenged by the questions and ensuing discussions we’ve had. I look forward to the coming weeks as we continue to engage the life of Christ and how we might practically live out “walking as Jesus walked.”
Aesthetically, I love the layout of the book. It is very “open” and text is not jumbled or arranged in big blocks. I think this might be appealing to folks who don’t typically read a lot. I suppose what I mean to say is the “reading” sections aren’t intimidating and it doesn’t take a great deal of time to engage them. There are sections that are fairly heavy with Scripture references and instructions to “look them up” and “copy them in the space provided.” This isn’t pervasive throughout the book, but there are quite a few of these exercises in the beginning lessons as the foundations of the study are laid during the first couple weeks. Also, considering the layout, there is plenty room to write in the workbook with lined spaces as well as very generous margins. Speaking of margins, there are occasional quotations added to the margins that serve as additional inspiration, encouragement, and challenge. Some of the persons quoted are John Calvin, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther, Corrie ten Boom, A.W. Tozer, and Watchman Nee just to name a few.
One thing I would offer in the way of warning, not necessarily critique, is this; Spader states in the introductory remarks that the each lesson should take only 10-15 minutes. This might be subjective, but it definitely has not been the experience of our family. We allocate 20-30 minutes each morning for our devotional lessons around the breakfast table and it takes every bit of that time to get the lesson completed. Several mornings we have been rushed to complete the lesson and even had to cut our discussions short. Again, this is not meant as a criticism, but a point of awareness. I think, especially if the study is done in a group setting, 45 minutes to an hour would be more suitable and spacious for discussion and conversation. It is, after all, in the course of dialogue (internal and external) where we process the thoughts and ideas that bring change to our lives and ultimately the transformation helping us to “walk as Jesus walked.”
I’m grateful to have been invited to review this study as it is already proving itself valuable with the conversations our family has around the breakfast table. I am hopeful I might have the opportunity to see the lessons and workbook used in a different setting as I plan to bring it before my small group as an option for our use together. In summary, I consider the content, layout, interactive elements, and support material very well thought out and assembled. I would recommend it for any group, class, or individual study. My ranking is five out of five stars.
Links and Resources:
- Chapter One Preview – Free Download (.pdf)
Jesus must be our model for ministry. Sounds obvious, right? Or is it? Jesus, in all His humanity (and all His divinity) shows us the best possible way to live. Through the way He lived, He modeled the priorities of how to multiply “much fruit.” The proof being His disciples. Following Jesus’ example, His disciples then changed the course of history.
How then can we follow Jesus’ example? We must study His life. How did Jesus pray? In what types of relationships did He invest? Where were His priorities? Can my priorities be His priorities? Can I walk like He walked? What we do with Jesus MATTERS. Global ministry trainer Dann Spader practically and helpfully walks us through 10 weeks of exciting, ministry-altering study to really begin to walk as Jesus walked.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Moody Publishers to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”