Ordinary Days: The Art of Forgiveness

I love the question Peter asks Jesus in our first reading this week. I find that Peter was often willing to ask the dumb questions that a lot of us are thinking. I learn a lot about life because Peter was willing to put himself out there.

maria-makki-artwork-large-72565And when it comes to forgiveness, Jesus shows that Peter doesn’t just have a wrong answer, but he’s asking the wrong question. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Forgiveness is not about a number or an amount.

Because forgiveness is not a math formula; it is more of an art.

So let’s explore forgiveness this week. It’s a major component of our relationship with God and a key to our relationships with one another.

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.”

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.”

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.”

“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.”

“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

Genesis 50:15-21

But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.

So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.

Psalm 103:1-13

Let all that I am praise the Lord;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
The Lord gives righteousness
and justice to all who are treated unfairly.
He revealed his character to Moses
and his deeds to the people of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.
The Lord is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.

Romans 14:1-12

Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.

So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bend to me,
and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.'”

Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.

Prayer

Loving Father,
Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Wash me clean by your grace.
Help me in turn to treat others
with similar kindness and love,
forgiving transgressions like I have been forgiven.
Amen

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some impactful books from my library

collection of old hardcover books

This post is my contribution to our collective book list here at Sacred Margins. I am a few days tardy posting this list, but I am thrilled to be a part of this conversation. In addition to the books Allen and Trevor posted, I want to add these seven books. Some are what you would consider “spiritual” or “church books while the last couple challenged me from a simply human point of view. I don’t think a book has to be labeled “Christian” to speak the truth about what God is after.

Check out this list and let me know what you think.

To Own a Dragon (Father Fiction) – Donald Miller
– I read this book during my second year of full time youth ministry. At the time I had two young African American boys living with me in my oversized church parsonage. This book hits at the heart of what it means to grow up without a father and I was seeing the fallout in the unfolding stories of the guys living with me. Their dad had died young and their family had failed them. This book taught me about being a mentor and acting on the burden of loving those who either lost or were rejected by their father.

Hurt – Chap Clark
No other book has taught me more about working with students than this one. The idea of systemic abandonment has stuck with me ever since camping out with this book over a few months. Understanding that most systems run by adults on behalf of teens are less likely to be about the teenagers has driven me to listen more and program less for students. If you work with students, in ministry or not, this is a must read.

Downtime – Mark Yacolellii
While in youth ministry for 8 years I made a lot of mistakes and most of them revolved around over programming and feeling compelled to keep kids busy to not only keep them out of trouble, but to keep my job. Downtime punched that idea in its sorry face by presenting the idea that teenagers might want to have a deeper and more contemplative relationship with God that doesn’t require loud music, lock in’s, and barf games. Yaconellii has become a blt of a prophet to the three of us and speaks to a deeper place in our community. I really love this guy and his work with students. He gets it.

The New Conspirators – Tom Sine
I’m throwing this one in here because for many years I thought the only way to do church was the at tractional evangelical model. Sine explores the missional, monastic, emergent, and mosaic movements of church and their various iterations. This is a good place to begin if you want to know more about the many faces of the church and the creative ways some engage their communities as a part of their faith.

Generation to Generation - Edwin Friedman
During my graduate work this was an assigned reading. While a little heady in parts, this was the first book that helped me understand what family process really looks like, while also connecting this concept to community life. Using the family model, Friedman explains the roles of shepherds, pastors, and rabbis in the church context in leading the church like a family system. Simply brilliant.

Nonviolence - Mark Kurlansky
This is not at all a faith based book, but I was directed to it in one of my other readings (couldn’t tell you which one). Kurlansky explores the art of nonviolence as a third and better way to war or pacifism. He explores the actions of Jesus, Ghandi, and others who chose the way of standing up to the powers of the world without shooting a gun or throwing a punch. He outlines 25 lessons about war and violence that hit home really hard. In a world that is ruled by violence, this book is really challenging and in some places uncomfortably probing about the ways we view violence.

Undaunted Courage – Stephen Ambrose
This book caught me by surprise. It is a biography of Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark) and tells the sweeping story of how this expedition opened up the west. I have long been fond of adventurers and explorers and their courage to do things others will not do. I couldn’t help but be swept up in the narrative of seeing what no westerner had ever seen and being the first to lay eyes on some of the most beautiful territory in the world. I want to be like that.

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Books That Opened My Eyes

Several people have approached me with a question like this: “Allen, I’ve been a Christian eyes1for many years, but still want to learn and grow. What books would you recommend for someone trying to reexamine things or expand their understanding of God?”

So my list today will be those books that opened my eyes — to a different way to read the Bible, to deal with belief/doubt or to interact with the world around me.

1. Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell

We talked a lot about Rob’s work on Monday in our Collective Favorites list. But if you want an introduction to Bell, you need to start here. The way he describes our beliefs about God as springs in a trampoline rather than bricks in a wall spoke some freedom into my life. It allowed me to go back and look at what I believe without fear that everything would come crashing down around me.

2. Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns

One of the most troubling things for many Christians is dealing with the blood and violence in the Old Testament. Namely, that God seems to command the obliteration of whole peoples – men, women, children and even animals. In a world where genocide is universally denounced, this can be a problem. While this book can be thick to read in places, Enns’ gives us a way to read the Old Testament and understand a movement, a progression that exists in Scripture.

3. Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty by Greg Boyd

We talk about the interplay of doubt and faith quite a bit here. Greg Boyd has been one of the writers/pastors that has helped me personally deal with how it all fits together. Boyd talks about faith not as a struggle for certainty, but a commitment in the midst of uncertainty. Although extremely intelligent, he writes in a very accessible and personal way that everyone can relate to. Another one of his to check out on the subject is Letters from a Skepticwhich is a series of letters written between Boyd and his unbelieving father.

4. Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions by Rachel Held Evans

When I read it, it was titled Evolving in Monkey Town. It was the first time I read a book from someone in my own generation addressing the problems I was struggling with myself. The book is a memoir of sorts, chronicling Evans’ move from a girl who had all of the religious answers down, through a time where she questioned everything she had ever been taught, and finally to a follower of Jesus who still has a lot of questions. This is an easy read and a captivating story.

5. Forgotten God by Frances Chan

We never talked much about the Holy Spirit in my faith tradition. It wasn’t that we denied her existence (at least not in my church), but it was not a subject that we broached often. For me there has always been so much mystery surrounding the Holy Spirit (and rightfully so). But Chan deals with it in such a straightforward manner — looking into the Bible about what it actually says about this force in our lives. And then asking the question, “Isn’t this the key to who we are actually called to be?” Studying this book with a group of teenagers was one of the best things I ever did in youth ministry.

6. The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scott McKnight

We talked about this book on Monday, so I won’t rehash that much here. But rest assured that this book helped me do exactly what the title suggests — rethink how I read the Bible. Additionally, if anyone who has struggled with the issue of women’s role in the church — which my faith tradition has mightily — you need to read this book. The way he examines the Scriptures is both intellectually sound and extremely heartfelt.

7. Adventures in Missing the Point by Brian D. McLaren & Tony Campolo

The title alone appealed to me as I habitually miss the point. This book challenged my thinking on a number of issues. And I love looking at things from a different point of view. Both authors take turns with essays responding to various topics in Christianity, from salvation and sin to worship and the end times. It covers a lot of ground and the 2 men often disagree. But this is a great introduction into a wider world of Christian thought that will help you think through some tough issues we face together.

8. Heaven on Earth: Realizing the Good Life Now by Chris Seidman & Joshua Graves

For you Church of Christ folk, this one is written by some of our own. Seidman and Graves work their way through the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 in an attempt to show us that salvation is as much about now as later. Eternal life is much more than forgiveness of sins or a ticket to heaven. It is about the life God wants us to live right here and right now. Excellent and life-changing stuff.

9. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright

In the same way that Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis helped me see that my brain had a place in my faith, this book helped me take another step. It is a walk through of what it means to be a Christian by one of the best theological thinkers of our time. This is one of the most accessible of Wright’s work, and perhaps the one I would recommend for anyone who has yet to read one of his books.

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Books

il_340x270.508620862_khzmI don’t know about you, but I think this is such a fun exercise. I love reading other people’s journeys and how books have influenced them. But picking my own favorites is challenging and rewarding. Even if you don’t post it here (and we hope you do!) I recommend going through the process. It is a good self-reflection exercise and you remember a lot about yourself and how you have grown. It is hard to break this down into ten influential books. So instead I broke it down into categories of things which have shaped me, are important to me, or just otherwise beautiful.

Influential Writers:

1. John Ortberg

One of the first Christian authors I ever read was John Ortberg. Ortberg initially introduced me to spiritual disciplines and God being close and available right here in this moment. From there, I just kept reading every time he put a book out. I haven’t read his last few because I listen to his podcast every week and he usually preaches through most of his books first. Ortberg also may be one of the best communicators on the planet. He is who I want to be when I speak or write because he is just so unbelievably good at it. Besides the two I linked, I would also recommend his newest book Soul Keeping.

2. Greg Boyd

Confession: I have only read one of his books. But I listen to his podcast every week as well. And he certainly doesn’t shy away from theology in a sermon. In fact, I haven’t read a book because I devour everything I can from him on podcast and know his theology pretty well. And Greg’s theology has really set me on a new course with my faith. The problem of evil is always a difficult question for people who take Christianity seriously, and Greg handles it in the most thoughtful and acceptable way I have found. He also brings a different perspective into the Calvinist / Armenian debate which I think is a better option than either. He definitely challenges comfortable Christianity but he always calls us to be re-examining our view of God in light of Christ on the cross. I would recommend starting with Benefit of the Doubt and Present Perfect. Then for you theology nerds God of the Possible and God at War.

3. Selling Water by the River by Shane Hipps

We mentioned yesterday the influence of Rob Bell. Rob Bell was another weekly podcast for me back in the day. While Rob was at Mars Hill, they decided to hire another teaching pastor – Shane Hipps. He has a completely different style but his teaching and thinking is beautiful and deep and challenging. Most of his sermons at Mars Hill got put into this book in some form or fashion. I love being able to go back and read through his beautiful description of the Christian life.

My Favorite Things: God / Family / Education

4. Theology Game Changers:

The Cross in Our Context by Douglas John Hall / The Dynamics of Faith by Paul Tillich / She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson

I listed these in order of accessibility as well as outside of the box theological thought. Hall’s book is very accessible and he puts an entire theology together on what it means to be the Church and love the world in light of the centrality of the cross. He articulates so well a lot of the concerns I have with modern Christianity and offers an alternative. Paul Tillich is just brilliant. He comes up in theology, philosophy, and even education. This is a good intro to him and help makes faith something compelling and beautiful and dynamic. Johnson writes a feminist theology. But rather than burn a lot of things down, she upholds a solid system of Christian theology and shows how we have missed the feminine side of God. Be warned, its intense.

5. How Children Raise Their Parents by Dan Allender

Dan Allender is a stud. Not only does this have a lot of good parenting advice about listening to your children and allowing them to shape you, it is a theology of parenting. He talks about creation and joy and suffering and creativity and wraps it all into a way of thinking about how you parent. It is challenging at times but it is the one of the best parenting books I have found.

6. Education Books

For those of you who care about what I am doing with my Ph.D., my two favorite education books are Big Questions, Worthy Dreams by Sharon Daloz Parks and Exploring Spirituality and Culture in Adult and Higher Education by Elizabeth Tisdell. Both of these wonderful ladies talk about faith and spirituality in terms where they can be discussed in a larger (non-Christian) academic world. Which is a pretty incredible feat. Parks focuses on Emerging Adults and how we can nurture them educationally. Tisdell talks about how we can engage learners on a spiritual level as well as help people explore their culture and cross cultural boundaries. These are my two favorite because all of my research interests are touched on in these two books.

Favorite Fiction Books:

7. Harry Potter Series / Dark Tower Series / The Road by Cormac McCarthy

My son is obsessed with Harry Potter so I decided to go back through them. They are amazing stories. The sixth book is my favorite and I think the chapter on Horcruxes is one of my favorite fiction chapters of all time. It talks about the power of love over fear and death and…ah! It’s just so good.

The Dark Tower series is an amazing story and journey that you just never want to stop. Although, give them at least until half way through the second book. It is a huge world King has developed and it is confusing to enter into it. The way he ended the series is also brilliant. I wrote about it once. Reading these series also both coincided with the birth of a child so that probably plays a role too.

The Road is just a beautiful story. I like dystopian fiction, but this one made me cry the whole way through. The story shows this ugly and nasty world, but a boy and his father find a way to bring beauty by their relationship. Great read for dads.

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The Sacred Margins Collective Favorites

bigstock-like-love-favorite-36977998Today we are going through the influential books the three of us have in common. Since so much of our growth as happened together, we have a lot different books either two of us or all of us have found compelling. But we each have our own perspectives on why they were meaningful, so we have some comments from each of us on these favorites we share.

1. Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps

Allen: From the printing press to radio to television and now social media, this book connected so many dots for me. Hipps does an amazing job of showing how technology’s affect on our brains changes the way we perceive and interact with the world. Sure, it made me want to toss my TV out the window at one point. But the larger point he makes is that our spiritual lives and how we talk about God is affect by the technology with which we interact. I think this book is essential for ministers, church leaders and anyone who wants to engage the way people think.

Trevor: This is the one that started it all! Shane’s ideas about how technology influences our spirituality was a major launching point for our blog. He does an amazing job of helping you see the connections between technology and spirituality and this book can be plumbed for a long time. Specifically, I return frequently to the idea about how technology when it is over extended reverts back on itself. The book also engages some topics like conversion and modern/postmodern thinking which I think are important.

Chris: I had never considered the effects of technology on people, especially spiritually before reading this book. This was the first time I had encountered the work cited by Hipps of Marshal McCluhan and his early work regarding the pitfalls of a technological society. Understanding tech as an extension of our senses really helped me understand how to properly use it, and not abuse it. This is a pretty obscure book in the Christian realm, but highly impactful.

2. Blue Like Jazz / Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller

AllenBlue Like Jazz was the anthem of my early adult life. I read it for the first time when we were living in Austin. At a time when I was trying to understand my place in the world and in the church, Miller spoke the words I didn’t even know I wanted to say. He writes such honest and descriptive prose that gives faith and doubt equal weight. Don recently wrote a blog post titled “I’m Glad I’m Not the Same Guy Who Wrote Blue Like Jazz.” He continues to grow and bless people. Thanks, Don.

Trevor: Both of these have been a major influence on my life, but Searching for God Knows What was probably more significant for me. He writes so well about the journey of discovering your faith for yourself, specifically when you go through the stage of questioning everything and the disenchantment you often experience as you enter adulthood. This book was one of the first books I ever read which told me it was ok to doubt and ok to think about Christianity in different ways. He also began to flesh out the idea of Christianity being relational at its core.

Chris: “Blue” was my initial introduction to the post-modern mindset as pertaining to Christianity. I had never before that considered it was okay to question the faith system you grew up on. One of the key scenes in the book told a story of Miller and some of his friends creating a “confession booth” were they apologized for the sins of Christianity. This blew me away because it always seems like Christians were asking the world to apologize for their behavior without ever looking at their own. This was a book that really changed things for me.

3. Anything by Rob Bell

Allen: Rob drives a certain part of the Christian population batty. I love that about him. I could sit here and tell you how Jesus Wants to Save Christians made me see the sweep of Scripture more clearly or how Sex God deepened my understanding of what sexuality really is. Or how What We Talk About When We Talk About God is a book I read in a day and then immediately began reading again. Or how Velvet Elvis gave me permission to let go of some views I really wanted to put down. But more than anything, I will tell you that Rob Bell has shown me a lot about myself — how I love to ask questions more than give answers and how I love to help people view God and Scripture from a different angle.

Trevor: I could go on and on and on. I will limit mine to four: Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save Christians and The Gods Aren’t Angry Tour. Velvet Elvis was one of the first books I ever read which allowed me to think in new ways about faith. One of the things I love about Rob is he puts fresh words and a fresh spirit on things which become too routine, lost in Christian jargon, or have become too rigid and dogmatic. Sex God is a really practical example of this. Rather than say: Don’t have sex before marriage, Rob explores the depths of sexuality and spirituality. Jesus Wants to Save Christians is one that introduced me to the the idea of empire and the scary ways it has worked itself into Christianity. I also love his idea that Christians are the Eucharist to the world – broken and poured out. I picked these first three books because going through the footnotes is as good or better than reading the book. I got to see Gods Aren’t Angry in person. I doubt any one collected thought has influenced my thinking/writing/ministry as this one has. Watch it. Now.

Chris (Velvet Elvis & Sex God): Like “Blue Like Jazz”, I didn’t know we were allowed to reexamine the way we looked at God. I guess I never knew it was necessary. It has been a while since I interacted with this book, but as I as reading it, I know it was a beginning of a time where I was changing my thinking about faith. Sex God was a book that dared to connect sexuality with spirituality. When I saw the title of the book I thought it seemed a little provocative, but for the first time in my life I understood there is a spiritual connection with everything. We can’t draw lines and say certain things are spiritual and certain things are “secular”. One of the best boos on sex and faith I have ever read.

4. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

Allen: This was not a book that I tore through. It’s not a “great read.” But this book opened my eyes to spiritual practices I barely heard about growing up. It helped me fall in love with a side of my spiritual life I’m still trying to cultivate. And it’s one I continue to refer back to as I continually try to be a more contemplative person.

Trevor: I worked through this book for the first time in college. It is an amazing introduction to spiritual disciplines, and it is also extremely pragmatic. Any time I do a spiritual discipline, I go back and read the chapter for it in this book. It never gets old or stops being practical.

Chris: I first read this book during the summer of my first youth ministry internship. It became the basis for the first retreat I ever planned as well as provided a basis for teaching students practical ways of connecting with God. Being from faith background valuing knowledge over emotion, the idea of connecting with God on an emotional level seemed pretty fluffy. But the simple ways Foster explained to engage in these practices made the experiences meaningful without having to search for hidden meaning. A must read for anyone seeking new ways to connect with God.

5. Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli

Allen: Mark Yaconelli changed the world for me. He changed the way I wanted to minister to teenagers, giving me permission to slow them down rather than wind them up. He changed the way I pray and the minister I want to be in one day at a prayer retreat. He opened my eyes in many ways. I know this is a youth ministry book, so not everyone will be immediately drawn to it. But it has implications beyond teenagers and is one I still refer back to the reawaken passion and spiritual discipline.

Trevor: While the title says youth ministry, this book introduced me to the contemplative practices. The three of us did a retreat with Mark a few years ago that was absolutely life changing, and afterward I got to have coffee with him and talk about this blog. He is an incredible guy and this book is a great introduction to not only contemplative practices, but how those practices help us be present to God and others in daily life.

Chris: This book served as a traveling companion as I spent 10 days in the mountains of Colorado searching for myself. I was living in a small town doing youth ministry as a single man and I had reached my limits. I asked for a large chunk of time off and set out. This book, my bible, and a few podcasts were my only travel mates as I sought something new.

And, the Yack (which we affectionately refer to him as) delivered. I had always assumed youth ministry was about the flash and show when really, students wanted to connect with God like anyone else. A slow and deliberate read through this book shows the reader a way of connecting with God in new way. This is a book that has stuck with me for a long time.

6. Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

Allen: While I related to Donald Miller in his memoirs, the story of Ian Morgan Cron’s journey is way outside my experience. But it’s so easy to get lost in the narrative, one of a boy, his father and finding meaning and faith. Cron’s story is beautiful and dark and scary and ultimately uplifting. It’s the book on this list that will grab you at page one and not let you go until the end.

Trevor: I love this book. It is an amazing journey of faith and how God is present with us and pursuing us at all times, and was a big impact on me because his story connected so deeply with parts of my own. A few highlights for me: He has a quote that says an addict is just a frustrated mystic. You see this played out in his life, but I found the same to be true in my own. Secondly, he talks about people in his life tying ropes around his waist to find his way back home in the storm. It is a beautiful metaphor and one that communicates much of what has happened in my own life.

Chris: This was deeply theological book wrapped in a narrative of a distant father and a son searching for answers. This was a book that came out of nowhere for me yet I couldn’t put down. Ian Cron is a masterful storyteller who can make you both laugh and cry in the same chapter. For anyone seeking spiritual answers in the middle of their own story, this is the book for you.

7. The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

Allen: There are reasons why this book was so huge for me: 1. It changed the way I read the Bible and 2. It finally helped me understand some passages in the Bible that really bothered me. McKnight is a great thinker, yet distills difficult concepts and history down in understandable ways. This book is a vital one for anyone who wants to study about “women’s roles” or who just needs a fresh way to approach the Bible.

Trevor: This book found me at just the right moment. I originally read it because the last third of the book is about women’s roles. There are not too many resources out there as good as this one. But then I went back and read his thoughts on how to approach the Bible and my view of Scripture was forever changed. Of particular impact to me was his metaphor of the Bible as a Wiki entry.

8. Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne

Allen: This book bothers me. And I think that’s the point. In some ways, Shane is the Christian that I really don’t want to be. He says things that get under my skin and I push back against. He’s a radical and calls others to be the same. But his love for those in poverty or on the outskirts of society is deeply moving. God’s grace to Shane is not some theological assertion or intellectual exercise, but a way of life. It’s a message that sticks with me still.

Chris: I never knew you could be a hippie liberal and still be a Christian. Shane Claiborne takes the social conventions of middle America and calls them to the carpet. This book was my first exposure to social justice as a ministry. Understanding that God calls his followers to live radically, not in a way radically opposed to sin, but engaging the hurting and disenfranchised in a complete and unashamed fashion. This is a book that can have ripple effects on the reader, not allowing you to leave unchanged. However, this is done in a direct but humble way that is accessible to the reader. Read this book expecting to be challenged and changed.

 

Don’t forget, we want to hear your top ten(ish) as well!

 

 

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10 Most Influential Books Challenge Week

We decided to change it up on the blog for the week. Many of you may have seen the book challenge going around Facebook right now. When someone tags you, you are supposed to list the top ten most influential books you have read, and then challenge others to do the same.

education-booksWe often get asked about the books and writings that influence us on this blog, so we decided to take this challenge up for the week.

Tomorrow we will have a list of books common to the three of us. We have done a lot of reading and journeying together, so we find a significant amount of overlap in our influential books, so tomorrow will be a list of those books and why they are significant to each of us. The rest of the week will be our individual lists.

So we challenge you! As the week goes on, we would love you, our readers, to provide your own top ten lists. We want to know what you are reading and what is shaping you along the way.

We hope this will be a time to share our journeys as well as provide some resources we think are significant and helpful in the Ordinary Days of following Jesus.

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Do I Understand Jesus Any Better Than Peter?

I think Peter often gets a bad rap.

Actually, let me correct that. I think we are accurate in our observations of Peter missing them point. I just think we often critique him while setting ourselves apart from him. In other words, we need not only to be aware of the things Peter fouls up, but we need to also be aware his story is meaningful because it is our story. Peter shows us our screw ups and how we miss the point even when Jesus is right there in front of us.

I feel this tension in the passage this week. We can sermonize all day long about how Peter misses the point of Jesus being the Messiah because he does not connect his confession to the cross.

But do we really connect those two? I know I miss it all the time.

take up crossAs Christians we affirm the Messiahship of Jesus and claim Jesus as Lord and Savior. But I think we often find ourselves in Peter’s position.

We want the results of the cross, but we don’t want to experience the cross. We rebuke Jesus for saying suffering is inevitable in the life of Jesus followers.

Or perhaps sometimes poorly define what it means to “take up our cross.”

In my life, often the most “suffering” I do for Jesus is putting up with people who mildly irritate me or find myself in a theological disagreement.

Or often I see it as suffering when I don’t get what I want. When things don’t turn out the way I had planned. My “suffering” is often very petty.

I believe the Gospel to be counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. It does not make sense to the mainline beliefs of the culture. Therefore as Christians, we should expect opposition. We should expect to offend people, we should expect people to misunderstand and reject and demonize us. We should find that life in the kingdom is difficult. This is the kind of cross carrying Jesus is talking about.

Yet often our suffering is things not going our way. Or worse, our opposition and offense comes from being jerks and not being the kinds of people who care for and love people in counter-cultural ways.

Most of the time people are offended by Christians because we are publicly advocating to get our way, and not being very nice about it.

Then I hear stories of people who have actually run up against opposition for the kinds of things Jesus assumed would cause us trouble. I see people working against friends who are trying to be the voice of change and love and hope in the world. I see systems and governments clashing with the people who are trying to incarnate the love of Jesus in the world.

These are the people who connect the cross and discipleship. These are people who are suffering and offering their time and resources and lives and health and safety for the good of others and the betterment of society.

When I see stories like that, and I think about what I consider “suffering” I wonder if I understand Jesus any better than Peter did in this moment.

Do I really know what it is like to clash with the powers that be because I am the kind of person who is FOR those who no one else is willing to be for? Do I know what it is like to truly give my time, health, and resources in a way that is uncomfortable and difficult?

Or do I get caught up in the entitlement game and play the Jesus card when I don’t get all I am entitled to?

Do I understand Jesus any better than Peter?

I think these are important questions to ask ourselves as we look at this story. Am I willing to be a person who understand the full meaning of Jesus as Messiah? I am willing each day to bear a cross? Because the cross is what we take on for the good of others. The cross is what we endure in order to give life and hope and meaning to those around us – especially those who are in desperate need of love and mercy and justice.

This story is a watershed moment. It is the moment where we must decide if we really want all that discipleship entails. Because once we decide to follow Jesus, we decide to be cross-bearers and agents of the radical and counter-cultural love of God in the world.

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