#struggles

struggles“We are living for Likes, but we’re longing for love.” In his latest offering Craig Groeschel explores our desire to be connected with others in the ever-growing world of social media. He shares many stories from people who truly are living for “Likes,” whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other outlets.

Some have become so engrossed with our smart phones we have developed a condition called nomophobia – the fear of going without your phone. The author spoke with a number of focus groups made up of young adults who share their struggles with being overly engaged with their phones and devices. Groeschel even shared a personal story of a time he has struggled with being without access to his phone.

Through the book he shared various statistics and stories that point to an obsession with social media engagement. In one chapter these numbers about Facebook were given: “Currently the average American Facebook user has 338 Facebook friends. But surveys indicate that the average American has only two friends they consider to be close. As shocking as that statistic is, I think one is even sadder: 25 percent of Americans today say they have zero close friends.”

While the author (and this reader) admit that there are many advantages we enjoy with smart phones, social media and other communication opportunities, it is easy for those things to become too important to us. Groeschel shares various passages of scripture and practical steps we can take to keep things in balance. Some are as simple as unplugging for 5 minutes each day, determining times when the phone is off-limits and putting filters and other restrictions on our phones. Some are “drastic” as deleting certain apps or unplugging altogether, if necessary.

In an appendix in the book, Groeschel provides The Ten Commandments of Using Social Media to Grow Your Faith and Share God’s Love. With humor, engaging stories and statistics and practical insights, Groeschel offers a timely book that is not just beneficial to the individual reader, but would also be effective as a small group study. The #struggles are real and there is some good advice to be gleaned from this book.

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Conforming Jesus to our Own Image

facesofjesusDuring the summer months, as I was ordering some small group curriculum from The Youth Cartel, I picked up a copy of Jen Bradbury’s book The Jesus Gap. I just started digging into it this week and am intrigued to move farther through the chapters.

The book takes a look at what teens believe about Jesus and it is based on both research and the author’s experience in working with students. In the opening chapters, Bradbury references a 2010 article from Christianity Today written by Scot McKnight. He writes about how people view Jesus and His conclusion is that we as people conform Jesus to our own image.

“Instead, if given to enough people, the test will reveal that we all think Jesus is like us. Introverts think Jesus is introverted, for example, and, on the basis of the same questions, extroverts think Jesus is extroverted. Spiritual formation experts would love to hear that students in my Jesus class are becoming like Jesus, but the test actually reveals the reverse: Students are fashioning Jesus to be more like themselves. If the test were given to a random sample of adults, the results would be measurably similar. To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image.”

In the first chapter Bradbury shares some of the views that students have of Jesus – from Jesus as a Superhero to an Average Joe Jesus – and whether they see Jesus as being either obedient or rebellious or quiet or talkative.  The responses are so varied that she feels her investigation supports what McKnight wrote about in 2010.

For church workers, it does raise the question of how students (and adults) in our congregations view Jesus.  I have to assume that the views we would discover are as varied as the research Bradbury shares.

For followers of Jesus – and for me – I have to wonder whether I have conformed Jesus to my own image.  Is my view of Jesus based on what is revealed in Scripture or do I view Jesus more in line what I think He is?

I’m curious to not only read the rest of the research in the book, but also to learn how to apply that in our specific context. The point (I think) is not just to learn about how people – how our students – view Jesus, but how that impacts our relationship with Him. Bradbury quotes Carl Braaten in her introduction pointing to why our view of Jesus is important: “…faith stands or falls with what it knows about Jesus of Nazareth.”

 

Life Is _____________

life isI had the opportunity to read Jesus Is ____________ about a year ago. Judah Smith’s follow-up Life Is _____________ was a good continuation of what he shared in his previous offering.

Smith uses solid insights, personal stories and doses of humor to reveal from various passages of scripture that Jesus is life. In one chapter he writes these words: “Jesus is always more. More than what? I’ll let you fill in the blank . . . He’s more than bankruptcy. More than sickness. More than sin. More than murder. More than divorce. More than tragedies, tsunamis, wars or famines . . . What are you facing? He’s more.”

Most of the Biblical accounts that Smith uses are probably not new to those who have grown up in church. He brings a new perspective that is refreshing for those who have familiarity with the passages, but writes in a way that communicates with a reader who might be new to these verses. Smith also writes with a practicality that is helpful to the reader. He brings the person of Jesus into our current culture and context.

As an example, he writes about one of the most well-known verses in scripture – John 3:16. Then he asks this question that puts that verse in a new light: “God loves the whole world? This doesn’t make sense. This is crazy. What about bad people? What about indifferent people? What about those who mock him to his face, who flaunt evil and flout his commands?” It gives a new filter through which to think about God’s love.

Probably one of the most powerful moments of the book for me was what Smith shared about his daughter’s birth. He writes about his dad’s battle with cancer and how one day God told him that Smith and his wife would have a third child, a girl, who they were to name Grace. When she was just a day old, they took Grace to church. Smith felt a strong urge to go hold his newborn daughter and took her to a room off stage. That moment, as he looked at his little girl, it was a reminder to him that even though life doesn’t always go the way we want (his dad lost his battle with cancer), God is good and loving and sustains us. He gives us grace to sustain us.

Life Is __________ is an encouraging book that points people to the love of God and how it has the power to change our lives. This book would be a good resource for personal reading and for small group discussion.

#CrashTheChatterBox

crash the chatterboxCrash the Chatterbox is the first Steven Furtick book I’ve read. The title piqued my interest although I wasn’t sure what the chatterbox was. In the book he not only explained the chatterbox, but described how to deal with it.

He describes the chatterbox as the lies we believe that keep us from accurately and actively hearing God’s voice. He referenced a stat that said the average person has more than 60 thousand thoughts per day and over 80% of those thoughts are negative. Whether that stat is true or not, we’ve all had the experience where we have had a silent discussion with ourselves – that chatter that goes on in our head about whether we should attempt something new or even chiding ourselves for a mistake we just made. In Crash the Chatterbox Furtick gives some tools for silencing that chatter.

One of the things I appreciated about the book is that Furtick kept pointing back to God’s Word as the main way to silence the chatter. In one chapter he used Jesus as the example of how to silence the lies of the enemy. He said this in chapter 4: “That’s why Satan’s temptation of Jesus had no more chance of succeeding than a Guns N’ Roses original lineup reunion tour. Because Jesus was fully loaded with the Word of God. He was literally preloaded with the truth of scripture in a way that only He could be: He was the Word of God.” As Jesus used God’s Word to silence the chatter of the enemy, we need to do the same.

Furtick’s book is filled with both personal stories and other people’s accounts of how the chatterbox has tried to defeat and derail. He balances the personal experiences of people and the truth of God’s Word to provide insight on crashing the chatterbox. At the appropriate time he inserted some humorous story or comment to keep the reader engaged.

I earmarked several pages in the book for future reference. It was a good read and provided insights to help followers of Jesus hear Him above the chatter.

The Noticer Returns

The Noticer ReturnsBack in September, 2013, I wrote about reading Andy Andrew’s The Noticer. Jones (just Jones, not Mr. Jones) shows up unexpectedly to offer insight and advice (he calls it “perspective”) to people just when they need to hear it. Andrews has released a second book about Jones titled The Noticer Returns.

In this second offering Jones continues to offer perspective to people and he continues to show up at unexpected times. One time he meets a farmer in the middle of his wheat field and Jones almost gets shot (you’ll have to read it to see what happens).

Much of this book focuses on parents who have questions about the best way to raise their children and, maybe more importantly, how the parents know they are going about it the right way. It made for some interesting chapters.

There were two passages of the book that really stood out to me. One came out of conversation with the farmer. In talking about some of the decisions this farmer needed to make, Jones said this: “The man you become will be determined by the value you provide for others – those whom you meet on the road to who you are becoming. Great or small, your legacy will be judged one day by the quality and amount of value you were able to contribute in the lives of other people.” Pretty powerful thought about the legacy we leave.

The other passage was in a conversation with a man whose wife was dying. The husband was emotionally spent and was angry that he was losing his spouse of so many years. Jones offered some perspective to the man comparing her exit from this world like a birth into a new world. “She is not the end. She is at the beginning…for many years this dear child was happy and content in this body. But for some time now, she has struggled. She has become uncomfortable. She has begun to long for freedom from the pain of this body and has sensed that the world she inhabits is not where she ultimately belongs. Even now she does not fully appreciate the reality that is waiting on the other side of her struggle, but she is preparing to experience something new and wonderful that in her wildest imaginings could not be described.” I liked the description that the world she inhabits is not where she ultimately belongs. God has more in store for us than just this life.

The Noticer Returns would be worth your time to read, whatever season of life you find yourself.

The Noticer

the-noticer-bookI saw a tweet last week that Andy Andrew’s book The Noticer was available for the Kindle for $2.99 so I snagged it. I’ve read The Final Summit and The Traveler’s Gift and enjoyed both of them.  Andrews is a good storyteller and he pulls you into the tale he is weaving.

One of the things I enjoyed about his other writings was the use of biographies of both well-known and somewhat obscure characters from history.

The Noticer, who goes by Jones (just Jones, not Mr. Jones) pops in and out-of-town and offers wisdom and advice to the people he meets.  He doesn’t seem to age and is always seen carrying a weathered, brown suitcase. The contents of the suitcase are a mystery to everyone he encounters.  He says his gift is noticing things and people just need a little perspective, so he offers that different perspective.  Much of what he shares with others comes from the lives of those in the past.  He refers to George Washington Carver among many others and provides helpful advice at the time people need to hear it.  He helps a couple struggling in their marriage, a business man trying to cut corners in order to be successful, a young man who is facing various difficulties in life and even dispenses relationship advice to teenagers. He shows up at the just the right place, at just the right time, with the right words for the situation.

One of the quotes I highlighted in the book was this:  “Have you ever considered how often we judge ourselves by our intentions while we judge others by their actions?”

The Noticer offers good advice and a different perspective to the reader.  Check it out.

Altar Ego

Altar_Ego_Series_-_Art_Preview_587x327My wife attended a Catalyst One Day event last spring with her church staff and heard Craig Groeschel speak. I have heard him on LifeChurch.tv and on some podcasts, but haven’t heard him live. She enjoyed his speaking style and was encouraged by what he said, so I got her a copy of Altar Ego. Since we share a Nook library, I had access to the book and finished reading it this week.

I’ve read Groeschel’s book, Chazown, and appreciate his straight forward writing style. He is transparent about his own failures and how God uses him despite his past. This is a big part of his writing in Altar Ego.

His encouragement in this book is to become who God says you are. In one of the early chapters, he makes the point that we are God’s masterpiece and are called to do His good works. I thought this phrase was pretty powerful: “You have everything you need to do everything God wants you to do.

Through scriptures and stories from his life and others, Groeschel encourages the reader to become the person God says each of us is. I appreciated how he tried to made practical application to anyone who might read this book. At times he spoke to parents, to kids, to college students, to single moms, to men, to women, all in attempt to bring some practical steps to becoming the person God has in mind for each of us.

If you like straight forward writing, mixed in with humor (and occasional sarcasm), while pointing back to God’s Word, you should pick up Altar Ego.