Crazy Love

Francis Chan is a dynamic speaker with a raging gift of exhortation. There are few better. And he employs that gift to good effect in his book, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. He makes the case well that our God loves us with a crazy love...and that the only appropriate response is to love him with a crazy love in response.

Like many others, Chan looks at the twenty-first century Western church with a critical eye, and exhorts readers to reject what seems to pass for "Christianity" in most of what we see around us--and who can disagree with that? But I found a funny thing happening along the way. The more I agreed with him and got stirred up by his impassioned challenges to complacent Christianity, the more uncomfortable I got. What was going on?

I think it was this: Chan is right in pointing out the all-in call of Jesus to his followers, and that standard totally reflects who I want to be. But at times his exhortation pointed my thoughts outward (toward others) rather than inward (on himself or on myself, the reader). It is probably a flaw in me rather than in the book itself that judgment and legalism began to ignite in me, not only toward myself but toward others. I started to lose sight of the mercy, grace, and triumphant love of God as I read. I am fully confident that this was not and is not Francis Chan's intention at all, so please chalk it up to this reader's failure to receive his exhortation in the right spirit. To some extent, that's true of every book; as Chan himself says, "don't assume you're the good soil" (in Jesus' parable of the soils), one of the book's many challenges which I take to heart.

One final note: I "read" Crazy Love in the audiobook version, which Chan read himself. I'm guessing that the author was coached not to "over-emote" or lapse into his animated speaking style. If so, I think that was a huge mistake. Chan's speaking style is lively and often light, his reading of the audiobook was downright gloomy.

Heaven's Lessons

I believe in heaven. But I've always been skeptical of "near death experiences" and the stories of people who say they have died and returned with accounts of "the hereafter."

But I know Steve Sjogren. He has been a friend and mentor for many years. He couldn't have more credibility with me. Neither could his newest book, Heaven's Lessons.

Steve died in an operating room. He "coded" for seven minutes. But the surgeons and others revived him. The years since have not been easy for Steve, but they have given him an amazing story to tell--a tale he weaves winsomely and memorably in Heaven's Lessons. He writes,

“If you’d asked me who God is on December 9, the year of my accident, I would have been able to give you a fairly cohesive but theoretical answer. A day later all of that changed.”

Seven minutes of death gave Steve a lifetime of lessons, and it's not hard to imagine that he only scratches the surface in his ten chapters, entitled:
  1. We Live in a Spiritual World
  2. God Is Big
  3. Success Works Backwards
  4. God Especially Enjoys Irregular People
  5. Don't Fear Death
  6. Quit Quitting
  7. God Heals Gradually
  8. Get Over It! 
  9. Face Your Fear
  10. Be Thankful

He concludes with a final selection called, "I Dare You to Dare Me," that is quintessential Steve Sjogren. And (like the whole book) potentially life-changing. 
I love the way Steve Sjogren thinks. I love the way he writes. And I think everyone should read Heaven's Lessons.

Church of the Week: Four Corners Community Church, West Chester, OH

The lovely Robin, our daughter Aubrey, and grandchildren Calleigh and Ryder and I had a great morning of worship yesterday at Four Corners Community Church in West Chester, Ohio (a northern suburb of Cincinnati).

We arrived in plenty of time for the second of their two Sunday morning services (9:15 and 11 a.m.), and were welcomed multiple times by folks throughout the atrium area. We found our way to the preschool area (at a different location than the above wing for older kids). We were greeted by a children's volunteer, who treated us graciously and shepherded us through the check-in process. Calleigh and Ryder were happy to join the other kids in their classrooms, and had a great time playing and learning.

Once the kids were checked in, we made our way to the coffee bar, and were again welcomed, and engaged in conversation.

Robin and I both noticed the giving kiosks, in a couple locations in the building.

We made it into the auditorium a few minutes before the start of worship. The music was good and loud, the way I like it, and the production values (lighting, smoke, presentation screens, etc.) were gratifyingly high. A favorite point of the service, for me, was the inclusion of a love song (since they were engaged in a marriage series called "Marriage Audibles"), "Come Away With Me," very ably played and sung by worship team member "Abby."

The message of the morning was in an interview format, on friendship in marriage, and was exceptionally well done. Great content, engaging throughout, and supported by Scripture. The service concluded with a baptism as the band led the song, "Oh, Happy Day."

After the service, we were not only glad to spend a little time chatting with our friends, Ryan and Jill Hartsock (who we knew called this church their home), but were also deeply honored to be greeted warmly and at length by lead pastor Ben Hodges.

We loved every minute. Four Corners is located at 7740 Service Center Dr., in West Chester, at the intersection of I-75 and Liberty Way.

Signs You Are Too Busy

From Kevin Martineau's blog--one I read daily--comes a helpful post for pastors, entitled, "7 Signs That You Are Too Busy."

He lists (and elaborates on each one, so read it all):

1. You can’t remember the last time you took a day off.

2. Those closest to you have stopped asking for your time.

3. Activities like eating are always done in tandem with other tasks.

4. You’re consistently more tired when you get up in the morning than you are when you go to bed.

5. The most exercise you get is sprinting from one commitment to the next.

6. You dread getting up in the morning.

7. “Survival mode” is your only mode.

That's a pretty good list. I might add a few others, like:

* A full day off or weekend is insufficient to restore your energy.

* You are regularly double-booked (or even triple-booked).

* A surgery-related hospital stay would seem like a vacation.

* Your patience and compassion seem to have disappeared.

What about you? What would you add? And if any of these signs look familiar, what are you going to do about it?

The Prayer Notebook App

I learned of this helpful prayer app by way of Anne Voskamp's excellent blog, "A Holy Experience." The Prayer Notebook has transformed the analog process and format of a prayer journal into a digital app for your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Other features include:
*Group prayers into categories
*SMS or email contacts when you have prayed for them
*Tweet what you are praying for
*Schedule prayers daily, weekly, or for a specific day
*Set an alert for prayer requests to remind you to pray
*Mark prayer requests as answered
*Password protect your prayers
Though my prayer process is far less list-oriented than it used to be, it is easy to see the adaptability of this app to almost any prayer routine. Check it out at

The Church Could Benefit from Women in Leadership

Numerous churches and denominations exclude women from leadership roles. Though I think the hermeneutic that leads to their conclusion is a flawed one, I understand that they believe that in so doing they are being obedient, principled, and biblical. Still, imagine what benefits the church could reap if this were not so. I offer the following as Exhibit A:

Simplifying the Soul

Paula Huston's Simplifying the Soul (Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit) is a beautiful, memorable, and practical book.

It's such a lovely book that I think I regret that it is intended for reading during Lent. Don't get me wrong: it is perfect--in tone, in style, in application--for Lent. But it seems to me it could be profitably read and enjoyed at any time of the year. And, though it is written by a Benedictine oblate and published by Ave Maria Press, it is far more ecumenical than you might think.

Simplifying the Soul invites the reader to slow down and, well, simplify. It is pitch perfect. It draws beautiful, thoughtful lessons from the author's life, from the writings of the Desert Fathers, and of course from the Bible. It is, as one of my favorite writers, Phyllis Tickle, says, "A verbal retreat that invites both the soul and the body to a holy retooling."

I read it last year. It is so good, I have pulled it out to read again this year.

Thoughts from a Recovering Pastor

Shaun King, on his blog Shaun In the City, recently posted an insightful post entitled, "7 Thoughts from a Recovering Pastor."

It starts like this:

From 1997-2011, I served 3 different churches in some pastoral or ministry role – including 3+ as Senior Pastor of Courageous Church in Atlanta. It chewed me up and spit me out. I’ve written about most of the highs and lows here on my blog. All things considered, I still love and believe in the church.

I admit, though, that I now only attend church occasionally, speak at churches rarely, and am still recovering and struggling to find my way in the contemporary church. I’m wide open to the possibility that the problem is me. This is not a post on how the church is ugly and I’m not.

I have a few rather random thoughts on the church that I want to share. While they do come from my own personal experiences, they each could transfer to your context.

He goes on to hit the proverbial nail on the pastoral head. Or vice versa. At any rate, go read the whole thing. It's worth it, whether you are a pastor, a church leader, a church member, or none of the above.

Wisdom Is Proved Right By Her Actions

This standing desk may well be the wisest purchase I have made in a long time (except for your book, if you're one of my fellow authors). It has drastically reduced the amount of time I spend sitting during my work day, and that's a good thing. It also djangles my creativity (see what I did there?), I think, to change posture off and on throughout the day. And, as everyone knows by now, THEY say sitting for long periods is bad for your health. And I am always careful to do what THEY say I should do. As should you. Unless you're one of THEY, in which case you already knew that.

A Bear Too Far?


Church of the Week: The Super Bowl of Preaching

The Desperate Pastor blog has recently featured Crossroads Community Church in Oakley (a Cincinnati suburb) as "church of the week," but this past weekend calls for a not-so-instant replay, as the lovely Robin and I had the pleasure of attending that church's memorable "Super Bowl of Preaching" on Saturday, an event they've presented annually for eleven years running.

It began more than a decade ago as the large church's leaders wrestled with the challenge of encouraging attendance at worship on the most challenging weekend of the year for churches: Super Bowl Sunday. They settled on a "Super Bowl of Preaching" that would pit one preacher against another in a parody of the hype and extravagance of the NFL event. They've refined it year by year into a unique, hilarious, and impactful experience that this year pitted lead pastor Brian Tome against teaching pastor Chuck Mingo.

We loved every minute. The production values of the entire experience couldn't have been better, from the online ticketing to the welcome teams and coffee service (as well as free popcorn and hot dogs, etc.) and the service (extended to ninety minutes from the usual sixty) itself.

The church's sense of humor, posture of grace, and insane reservoir of talent were on display (the "souvenir programs" handed out at the event won my heart with the "First Time Here? Welcome" paragraph that started, "It's OK to have fun at church." Isn't it a shame that it should even have to be said?). The halftime show probably excelled the OTHER Super Bowl's halftime show, Beyonce or no Beyonce. And the preaching (complete with referee, penalties, and color commentary) was sound, biblical, and entertaining.

I'm glad I went, and even more so because the tickets were infinitely cheaper (free) than tickets for Super Bowl XLVII.

Loving God When You Don't Love the Church

Loving God When You Don't Love the Church is pastor and author Chris Jackson's effort to help those who have been hurt in and by the church find healing and restoration. It is an honest, humble, and helpful approach that not only asks "Why do church wounds go so deep and take so long to heal?" but also suggests thorough, practical steps toward healing.

Jackson's approach is always sensitive, but I thought it was much too long and its focus diffuse to be helpful to someone who is truly hurting. It's hard to write a book for hurting people, because the pain makes it hard to read, to focus, and to persevere. At times, I wondered where the author was going and why he was saying this or that. Perhaps in the course of being thorough the book lost some of its effectiveness.

While I think Stephen Mansfield's Healing Your Church Hurt is much more likely to be helpful to someone who has experienced a recent church-inflicted or church-related hurt, Loving God When You Don't Love the Church can still be quite helpful, perhaps most for those in church leadership, like Jackson, who want to understand the topic more thoroughly, as a topic. But for those who are walking through a hurtful experience themselves, I recommend Healing Your Church Hurt instead.