Dirty God

Bravo to Johnnie Moore for his book, Dirty God: Jesus in the Trenches.

Moore builds a case from Scripture, from his background as a Christian pastor and professor, and from extensive experience with people from other cultures and religions, to show that Jesus is both other and more than most people--including most Christians--give him credit for. It is a book about grace. He writes: "The premise of this book is that God's relationship with people is primarily defined as a relationship of grace, and grace should make us better people and make the world a better place. It's our responsibility as God's children to live as people of grace in a world that desperately needs what it doesn't always accept."

Though at times I thought Moore didn't go far enough in depicting the amazing grace of God in Christ (and I don't think he ever went too far), Dirty God is a book worth reading. It does not approach the beauty or profundity of Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace? (a book that any book on grace will be compared to), and it is not as bold in its pronouncements as some (after all, the author is a pastor and Liberty University professor). But it is a good book, accessible, engaging, and valuable.

God Always and in Everything

Not the goods of the world, but God.
Not riches, but God.
Not honors, but God.
Not distinction, but God.
Not dignities, but God.
Not advancement, but God.
God always and in everything (St. Vincent Pallotti).


I recently read pastor Hugh Halter's 2011 book, Sacrilege: Finding Life in the Unorthodox Ways of Jesus, and was both delighted and challenged by it. I congratulate him for writing it, and Baker Books for publishing it.

It is more and honest and blunt than many church folk will tolerate--which is exactly why it had to be written. It exposes the many ways we church folk don't live as Jesus did, and why we don't attract people the way he did. It reveals how we have become less like Jesus than like the people Jesus offended.

Using the Beatitudes as his framework, Halter takes a refreshing and irreligious look at Jesus, Scripture, family, spiritual formation, conversion, church, sin, and more. He challenges assumptions and scuttles religiosity with words like these:
Dogma, by nature, wraps God-inspired thoughts into a box and then bids you to stop thinking. It's done; you've got it all figured out. And once you have it all figured out, your only recourse is to force the entire box on someone else without considering the particularities of his or her life (p. 71).
It is, as endorser Leonard Sweet says, "a carefully constructed theological Molotov cocktail which explodes false myths while it fires up the Christian imagination for truth, beauty, and goodness."

Eight Leadership Insights from MLK

This post has become a perennial favorite here on the Desperate Pastor blog. I first featured it on Martin Luther King Day 2010. It is borrowed from a favorite blogger of mine, Michael Hyatt, and is a great way to mark Martin Luther King Day:
My wife, Gail, and I watched the speech again on Saturday. It’s less than eighteen minutes long. However, it is profoundly moving. By the end of it, we were both in tears. I urge you to take time on this day to watch this speech and experience what this commemoration is all about.

While the speech is a masterpiece of rhetoric, I believe it also provides eight insights into what it takes to be a truly great leader. (You can read the full transcript here.)

Great leaders do not sugar-coat reality. This speech came at a critical point in the civil rights movement. Dr. King did not pull any punches. He faced the most brutal facts of his current reality. Referring to Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, he acknowledged,
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”
Great leaders engage the heart. While logic may compel the mind, stories and metaphors move the heart. This is the difference between offering information and inspiration. To cite but one example in the speech, Dr. King states:
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”
Great leaders refuse to accept the status quo. In fact, I would say that this is the defining characteristic of real leaders. They are not passive; they are active. They are unwilling to acquiesce to their circumstances. Dr. King continues:
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
Great leaders create a sense of urgency. They are impatient—in a good way. They refuse to just sit by and let things take their natural course. They have a sense of urgency and communicate it. Dr. King says,
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
Great leaders call people to act in accord with their highest values. It would be easy for the civil rights movement to change tactics and resort to violence. Some did. However, like Nelson Mandela did when he became president of South Africa, Dr. King called his people to a higher standard:
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must ever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
Great leaders refuse to settle. It would have been easy for Dr. King to negotiate a compromise, to settle for less than his vision demanded. But he was stubborn—in a good sense. He persisted, and his called his followers to persevere:
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Great leaders acknowledge the sacrifice of their followers. They notice the effort their people have expended. They verbalize and affirm it:
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”
Great leaders paint a vivid picture of a better tomorrow. Leaders can never, never, never grow weary of articulating their vision. They must be clear and concrete. They have to help their followers see what they see:
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
I have only scratched the surface. This speech is full of lessons and deserves careful study. I would encourage you, in the spirit of this holiday, to sit down with your family and watch the entire speech. It is less than eighteen minutes long. It will change forever the way you understand Martin Luther King Day.

Church of the Week: Crossroads Community Church, Florence, KY

The lovely Robin and I seized the opportunity last evening to worship with our daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in Florence, Kentucky, at one of the three locations of the multi-site Crossroads Community Church.

We entered the expansive and inviting atrium (which has a cool fireplace at one end), and were quickly welcomed by several different people.

Large, well-placed signage made it easy to find our way around.

The check-in process for our grandchildren went smoothly and they had no reservations about joining other children in their well-staffed and fun-looking classrooms.

The worship, led by a friend of the family, was well done (if a little short--only two songs), and thematically appropriate.

The message of the evening, delivered onscreen via a recording of teaching pastor Chuck Mingo from the mainstage at Oakley Crossroads, was engaging and effective, the second in a series on the history and mission of the church, titled "Saints & Scoundrels." The use of a large central screen to supplement the two side screens made the experience every bit as immediate and personal as if the speaker had been present in the room.

Crossroads Florence is located at 828 Heights Blvd., near the Florence Mall, y'all (that's a local reference, a tiny inside joke for those who know the area).

The Most Memorable Sermons I've Ever Heard

In the past several weeks, I've had the blessing of having three different people tell me that they vividly remember a sermon they heard me preach. They even related a
little about the impact it had on them! What a joy that is for an old preacher to hear.

It got me thinking (always a dangerous thing). I've had the honor and blessing of hearing many, many wonderful, gifted preachers over the years, from Billy Graham and Tom Skinner to my own wife, brothers, as well as others whom I have mentored and encouraged as preachers and teachers. So much good--even great--preaching.

So I thought I'd take a few minutes to reflect on the most memorable sermons--not preachers, but individual, specific sermons--I've heard over the years. How many sermons can I say I remember at least the title, topic, or main thrust of the message? And I've been shocked and dismayed at the result.

Now, keep in mind, my memory is so faulty it's pathetic. For example, one of the reasons I keep a record of the books I read each year is because I have often begun reading a book only to realize, several pages or chapters into it, that I'd read it before. The lovely Robin has often related to me incidents we shared or witnessed of which I have absolutely no recollection.

Still, given the criteria I set for myself, the following are apparently the most memorable sermons I've ever heard, in the approximate order I heard them:
Paul Little, "The Effective Ambassador" (I remember this message at Urbana in--I think--1976)

Leonard Ravenhill, "The Judgment Seat of Christ" (a sermon on cassette tape)

Commissioner Andy Miller, "Garbage" (a signature sermon from a true one-of-a-kind preacher)

Tommy Nelson, "The Art of Attraction" (and other sermons from Love Song, a series on the Song of Solomon)

Brennan Manning (pictured above), "The Furious Longing of God" (a mesmerizing message from the author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba's Child, and many other books)

Rachel Held Evans, "Eschet Chayil" (a podcast of a talk by Rachel Held Evans which I mentioned and linked to last May on this blog--here)
If my memory weren't so poor, I'm sure I could come up with others, from camp meetings and pastors conferences and church services over the years. But those are the sermons that come most readily to mind, spanning thirty-six years from the Paul Little sermon to the Rachel Held Evans message. Six out of hundreds, maybe thousands, I have listened to, in person, on radio and TV, via tape or CD or podcast.

What about you? How many sermons can YOU recall (by title, topic, or main thrust)?

Stumbling Block and Cornerstone

The church, like Peter, is both a stumbling block and a cornerstone. It is the latter only when it is consciously contrite for being, and having been, the former (Gil Baillie, Violence Unveiled, 275).

Searching Words from R. C. Sproul

To demand from others what the Spirit Himself patiently endures is to exalt ourselves above God (R. C. Sproul).

My 2013 Reading Plan

As I've posted about here and here, I have long made it a practice to devise a reading plan at the beginning of every year, to help guide my reading in the months to come (it usually turns out that half or more of my reading is spontaneous, so my plan is plenty flexible).

So, while the plan is always in process, here are some of the books I hope to get to in the course of 2013:

The Hiding Place (ten Boom)

A Man Called Peter (Marshall)
American Lion (Meacham)

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (Poe)
Fathers and Sons (Turgenev)
The Rainbow (Lawrence)
Summer (Wharton)
Walden (Thoreau)
Silence (Endo)
Richard II (Shakespeare)

Every Writer Needs a Tribe (Goins)
The Virginia Woolf Writer’s Workshop (Jones)

Winston’s War (Dobbs)
A Daughter’s Tale (Spencer-Churchill)
Hitler’s Pre-emptive War (Lunde)

New authors:
Possession (Byatt)
The Corrections (Franzen)
A Soldier of the Great War (Helprin)
I, Elizabeth (Miles)
One for Sorrow (Reed/Mayer)
Surfeit of Lampreys (Ngaio Marsh)
False Scent (Ngaio Marsh)
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (Franklin)
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Clarke)
Killing Floor (Child)
Die Trying (Child)

Biblical Fiction:
Havah (Lee)
Sarai (Smith)
Love Amid the Ashes (Andrews)
Michal (Smith)

A Poem a Day (McCosker/Albery)
Writing the River (Shaw)
A Thousand Mornings (Oliver)
The Mad Farmer Poems (Berry)

Conagher (L’Amour)
Down the Long Hills (L’Amour)
The Me I Want to Be (Ortberg)
Soul Salsa (Sweet)
Soul Tsunami (Sweet)

Glorious Mess (Howerton)
The Furious Longing of God (Manning)
The Naked Life (Banks)
The Power of a Whisper (Hybels)
The Challenge of Jesus (Wright)
Just Think (Nordenson)
Seeing the Unseen (Hunt)

Church & Leadership:
Messy Church (Parsley)
You Lost Me (Kinnaman)

Related books (to be read in order):
Hitler’s Pre-emptive War (Lunde)
Winston’s War (Dobbs)
A Daughter’s Tale (Spencer-Churchill)
Blackout (Lawton)
Something Rotten (Fforde)
Gertrude & Claudius (Updike)

Abundant Living (Jones)
The Next Chapter After the Last (Tozer)
Introduction to the Devout Life (de Sales)

Ghostwriter (Thrasher)

Books about books:
For the Love of Books (Shwartz)
My Reading Life (Conroy)

84 Charing Cross Road (Hanff)
The Last Dickens (Pearl)
11/22/63 (King)
Libra (DeLillo)
The Foolish Dictionary (Wurdz)
Jayber Crow (Berry)

A Soldier of the Great War (Helprin)
11/22/63 (King)

That’s 66 (some are listed more than twice because they fit multiple categories)…probably a bit too inflated, considering it's more than half my total of 127 books read in 2012--a total which included 34 children's books, which of course are shorter than most other books I read). But there are just so many books...and so little time.