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The Higher Calling of Parenting

There are many books books currently available on the subject of parenting. Some are general presenting an overview, some focus on solving commonly identified parenting problems and a very few help surface an issue most parents have not even considered. BOLD PARENTING: Raising Kids To Be More Than Just Rule-Keepers by Dr. Lars Rood (Group Publishing, 2013) fits into the last category. As a youth worker at First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue WA Lars has had up close experience observing parental shifts in behaviors over the years and he has discerned an ever encroaching lack of boldness on several fronts impacting the raising of children. In a very condensed style with each chapter only 4-5 pages in length and the whole book only 100 pages the content is very accessible even to those on a busy schedule. Section 1 pages 1-29 outlines the lack of boldness. Section two clarifies “What Our Kids Really Need” pages 29-56. Specific applications and suggested steps for improvement make up pages 57-96. As a parent himself Lars writes with the humility of a “fellow traveler” but his list of recommended books for parents on pages 98-99 demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the current research and thinking about parenting.

Lars conclusions is a fit description of the goals of the book, “I hope this book has provided you with specific, practical ideas for building a bolder faith in your own life and passing it on to your children-and to any other young people in your sphere of influence.” (P. 97) If that is your desire this book is for you!! I am keeping it on my self as part of a short list of resources I recommend and give to parents who want to improve their parenting impact on their children.

Getting Familiar with Islam’s Holy Book

Given the fact that there are more Mosques in North America than Presbyterian Churches it is incumbent on thoughtful Christians everywhere to become familiar at least in passing with the Holy Book of Islam- the Koran understanding how it is like the Bible?, how it is different? What are its main teachings? and why is this important when interacting with out Muslim neighbors and coworkers. Thankfully there is a resource to help answer these very questions, UNDERSTANDING THE KORAN: A Quick Christian Guide To The Muslim Holy Book by Mateen Elass (Zondervan, 2004). I was impressed with each and every aspect of the book from the author who was raised in Saudi Arabia in a Muslim environment so he speaks from a  personal perspective and bank of knowledge as well  as holding degrees from Stanford University, Fuller and University of Durham he is well versed in theological study and research. The book is an un-intimidating 192 pages divided into 10 Chapters beginning with the critically important issue of how does the Muslim world view the Koran? Other chapters include the background of when and where, and how did the writing of the Koran come about. The book is filled with quotations from the Koran which are fully indexed so the readier can see for themselves the concepts being presented. The heart of the book are chapters on Jesus and how He is portrayed in the context of the Koran, other Biblical figures and how their narratives are similar and different in the Bible and Koran. The doctrine of eschatology is explored from both Christian and Muslim perspectives in chapter 9, The Agony and the Ecstasy: Heaven and Hell. A full discussion guide is included so the book can easily be explored as a small group as well as an individual read. Research is facilitated by complete Notes as well as  Subject and Scripture indexes. An epilogue which discusses some specific apologetic and conversation insights was thought provoking.. If you only have one book on the Koran on your shelves or time to read and digest just one volume on this topic I heartily recommend this book!!

Fit Together By The Kingdom of God

WOW! I don’t think I have ever begun a book review this way but i’ll say it again WOW! As a youth ministry and Theology professor at the University level for 20 years and in full time ministry for close to 40 years it is not often I read a book that for content, accessibility, consistency of thematic development, and visual  diagramming literally take my breath away but GOD’S BIG PICTURE:Tracing The Story Line of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts (2002, IVP) did just that.

I taught an introduction to the Old Testament class for University freshmen this past spring and struggled a bit with a consistent voice to make the Old Testament the story of Jesus while remaining true to the “original intent of the author, audience and historic context”. I wish I had had this book then. Vaughan who is rector at St. Ebbe’s Church in Oxford England presents the unifying theme of the whole Bible as “The Kingdom of God” defined as, “God’s people, in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing (p. 21). The book presents a usable outline for following the flow of the Bible as:

O.T.

The Pattern of the kingdom

The Perished kingdom

The Promised kingdom

The Partial kingdom and

The Prophesied kingdom

N.T

The Present kingdom

The Proclaimed kingdom

The Perfected kingdom (p. 22)

This over view is indeed simple and easy to follow and remember but it is anything but simplistic. The rest of the book is the outline explained and explored.

What makes this book extremely valuable beyond the basic content are the visual diagramming of the developing outline through out the book, (almost every other page has a diagram!!) and side bars on points of explanatory definitions of different views held by evangelicals including but not limited to The Achievements of the Cross (p. 116) and The Millennium (p. 145). Also adding great value are the well constructed  Bible studies included at the end of each of the eight chapters.

I am currently in the process of redesigning my OT course around the insights I have discovered in this excellent volume and all my students will benefit from my having read it this fall!! If you buy and read only one Bible Study book this summer make it this one! I guarantee you will not be disappointed!

 

Finding Hope and Comfort

When life gets difficult where do you turn to for comfort and hope? Building on King David’s question in Psalm 11:3, “When all that is good falls apart, what can good people do?” popular pastor and author Max Lucado presents 8 short chapters spread over 83 pages exploring the Scriptures for answers in FOR THOSE TOUGH TIMES:Reaching Toward Heaven for Hope and Healing, (2006, Thomas Nelson). Although the book is small and accessible to all there are some deep reflections on the problem of evil in chapter 4 Good Triumphant and Chapter 5 The Bitter taste of Revenge. Like all of Maxes books  this one is full of stories. Some are personal like the opening words of chapter 2 God’s Great Love on page 7, ” It was her singing that did it…” or from church history like the story of Thomas a’ Kempis on page 61 illustration reverence.

This is a book to read yourself for encouragement and then pass along to some one else as a small but powerful reminder of the God of all hope. The book concludes with a prayer that is worth the price of the book,

“Dear Lord,

Were still hoping we’ll wake up. We’re still hoping we’ll open a sleepy eye and think, what a horrible dream. How could this have happened? We are sad Father.

And so we come to you. We don’t ask you for help; we beg you for it. We don’t request we implore. We know what you can do. We’ve read the accounts. We’ve pondered the stories and now we plead, Do it again Lord, Do it again.”……amen!

Faith and Scholarship: Celebrating the Jubilee Year of the Discovery of Qumran Cave 1

Having traveled to the caves of Qumran in Israel on the banks of the Dead sea this past January I desired to find a book that updated my background knowledge on the scholarship of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was therefore, delighted to find a copy of THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS and the CHRISTIAN FAITH edited by James H. Charlesworth and Walter P. Weaver (Trinity Press International, 1998) a volume in the Faith and Scholarship Colloquies series.

In this short volume made up of 4 chapters originally delivered as papers for a conference at Florida Southern College on the Dead Sea Scrolls a team of very competent scholars explore the questions, “do the Dead Sea Scrolls hinder or undermine Christian faith?. In what ways do theses ancient Jewish scrolls alter or reshape Christian’s perceptions of Jesus?, How do they help us understand prophetic and messianic beliefs during the time Jesus taught in Galilee and Judea?” (P. Xii) The goal is to correct popular errors that have sprung up as well address controversial “conclusions” that are part of the ongoing scroll discussions.

The book presupposes a modicum of familiarity with the over history of the discovery of the scrolls themselves but care is taken to assure that the book remain accessible to those truly interested in the questions raised and answered in the book. It is important to note right off that the book is not flashy or sensational in its arguments or conclusions so people looking for conspiracies or radical  theological speculations will be disappointed at every turn but for those thoughtfully engaged in the discussion questions raised it is a gem.

The preface titled The Challenges of the Dead Sea Scrolls to Christian Faith sets the stage for the books four main chapters. Chapter one discusses the “methodological considerations concerning the scrolls including most basically a discussion of the different senses of the term “dead Sea Scrolls” (p. 2) and their import in the study of early Christianity dividing the writings into three categories, Biblical Texts from the Old Testament, sectarian texts and “para-biblical Jewish literature” (p.6). Chapter two deals with Ideas of Messianism in the Dead Sea Scrolls of special interest is the full discussion on the so called “Dying Messiah”(p, 28) reference located in 4Q285.

Chapter 3 is titled, Prophecy in the Dead Sea Scrolls which explores the two kinds of   prophecy in the Old Testament  compared to the prophetic writings at Qumran. James H. Charlesworth from Princeton Seminary  concludes with chapter 4 The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Faith, which can be summarized in his quote, “Has my faith been strengthened by studying the scrolls for nearly 40 years? Absolutely!” (p.70) . It is worth noting in passing some of my definitions and how I would articulate elements of the Christian faith them differ from those of some of the authors it did not lesson my learning from the book

The index and notes make this volume a valuable addition to your library of Dead Sea Scroll resources.

 

The Poetry of Fixed Hour Prayer

In his book IN CONSTANT PRAYER author Robert Benson (Thomas Nelson, 2008) makes a powerful yet whimsical case for all Christians to explore the adventure of fixed hour prayer also called the daily office. Using more story than scolding, more invitation than demand this volume in the Ancient Practices Series edited by Phyllis Tickle is at its heart a call to deeper and more consistent prayer practices.

Robert Benson is a man of letters and his literary skill is brought to bear on this important topic of daily systematic prayer times. Drawing from his early upraising as a “Nazarene” through his late Episcopal associations he uses truth and understatement to reconfirm the convictions of those who practice the Daily Office and introduce others who’s Christian Tradition may not have practiced prayer like this before. He writes, “The prayer of the office is not for everyone. But it is not to say that it is only for a minority of us, ..It is prayer for the rest of us. It always has been. For thousands of years the daily office has been a primary way to hold ourselves in closer communion with the One who made us, It is a way to sanctify our hours, our work and our love, our very life itself”. (p.9)

The book is divided up into 10 chapters each exploring a different dynamic or aspect of fixed hour praying. He begins Chapter 8 titled Praying Alone Together with a wonderful story of a men’s retreat that was worth the cost of the book as he explores the role of prayer and praise in the experiencing of Christian community. His simple yet profound style is exemplified in the quote, “The secret to a a life of prayer,by and large is showing up. So you want to meet God, Exactly when and where will this meeting take place?” ((p.119) 

The book includes a couple of very practical and useful Appendix and a Glossary, I also found next years Christmas Eve’s “Call To Worship” on page 144. It was a rare gem hidden within the pages of the book to be discovered, be impacted by and then be shared, I cant think of a better summery of my opinion of the book as a whole.

“We all Pray….Some”

It is true, research says the overwhelming majority of people pray. It is as if it is built in to human DNA to seek God but often people even 1st century Jewish disciples who themselves prayed daily want to pray differently, even better, like all of us. To help us along New York Times Best Selling Author and San Antonio TX pastor Max Lucado has written Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer (2014, Thomas Nelson).

Utilizing a clear, simple understandable approach Max revisits Jesus prayer in the gospels and brings a 6 phrase approach he calls “the pocket prayer”,

Father,

You are good,

I need help,

They need help,

Thank you,

In Jesus Name Amen!

The book is an unpacking of the powerful ideas contained int these simple statements and ways to implement new avenues of prayer in to the believers daily life. I try to read a few books on prayer every year and this was well worth reading. I found a great quotation on pages 18-19 I used in our church worship service to introduce out time of congregational prayer and I was deeply moved personally by Chapter 8 titled, Thank You where Max uses every letter in the alphabet to express praise and gratitude to God, including,

“S-avior, forgiving sin, you have

T-riumph over death!, a

U-niverse reclaimed, a

V-ictory that no one can take!…

..No mist is so thick that the sunlight of appreciation cannot burn it away…

” X-rays, xylophones and extra grace God gives when we run out of words that start with “X”. (pp. 90-91)

Adding additional value is the enclosed study guide P.101-159) written by Jenna Lucado Bishop which has every chapter following the pattern of the acrostic PRAY:

Personalize

Reflect

Abide

Yield

Grab this book, pour a cup of tea and spend some time drawing nearer to God in prayer!!

 

Help with Board Meetings

In preparation for joining an additional non-profit board this fall I decided to select and read a book on “best practices” for non profit boards. After asking for suggestions from several  friends and colleagues I settled on , LESSONS FROM THE NONPROFIT BOARDROOM: 40 Insights For Better Board Meetings by Dan Busby and John Pearson (E.C.F.A. Press, 2018) and I was not disappointed!

The book is divided into 11 parts each made up of from 3 to 7 chapters of about 5 pages each. There is an excellent balance between broad conceptual subjects like “Vision Growth Must Equal Leader Growth: Caution! Vision casting often backfires, and “Do Unwritten Board Policies Really Exist? and very practical and readily applicable subjects like “Before The Board Meeting: Collaborate, then wisely build the board meeting agenda and A Board Prayer.

Each chapter includes a quotation,  an outline of content, Boardroom Lesson, and specific Board Action Steps. The book includes a study guide, excellent end notes, and Index increasing its value. I learned a lot about the board process and look forward to sharing chapters in future board meetings as the content  was  designed to be shared.

Of special interest was Chapter 24 titled, Ministry Fundraising 101 For Board Members and its six areas critical for boards to understand including:

-Temporarily Restricted Gifts

Gift Acceptance Policy

-Fundraising Techniques

-Compensation For Fundraisers

-Charitable Solicitation Laws

-Privacy Policy

In short, if you are serving on a nonprofit board or are considering  serving I strongly recommend this book as a valuable tool for personal development as well as content to share in increasing the functioning of your board and maximizing your board experience.

A How To Guide for Serving with Volunteers

Having late last year completed co teaching a class for GroupU it has been my pleasure to explore additional online offerings as they train church and ministry leaders in important skills and necessary information. In a recent class on Volunteers (Really An Excellent Online Class) one of the recommended resources for the class was, The Skinny On Volunteers by Jonathan McKee with Danette Matty (Group Publishing, 2015). I have not read a book on ministry volunteers in a while and so selected this one to refresh my engagement in this essential ministry skill set.

The book is part of GROUP’s “The Skinny” series so as you might expect is is small in stature with less than 90 pages but is packed with helpful information. The book is organized in to  5 chapters representing the top 5 questions leaders  as about dealing  volunteers, namely: The need for volunteers, recruiting volunteers, keeping, volunteers training volunteers and developing an immediate action plan for doing better ministry with volunteers.

The authors do a wonderful job of balancing very practical advice with a solid Scriptural foundation. In fact youth ministry thought leaders Kurt Johnston and Katie Edwards write a short but valuable “introduction” placing the exploration on the subject of volunteers firmly in the realm of “Jesus Center Youth Ministry”. As a 40 year veteran of youth ministry practices I did not expect to encounter much I did not know and I was correct in that assumption. Making the case for “asking” rather than making announcements from the pulpit or newsletter is a principle I have practiced my entire life but the reminders of so many practices I have used over the years condensed in a singly usable volume made the reading of the book a valuable reminder of not only “what” to do by “why”.

For interns just starting out, youth  or children s ministry workers still in the trenches or even aging  ministry veterans this work was value and is worth the cost. Of special value were the “side bars” titled A VOLUNTEERS PERSPECTIVE provided by Danette which gave insight and identified issues very common among volunteers, as one who is more on the leadership side than the volunteer side at this point those reminders themselves were worth the price of the book.

Preaching/Teaching On Zoom

In light of of social distancing requirements in the midst of the pandemic and church worship services and higher education moving online I am dispensing with today’s expected book review in order to share my extensive expertise (At least 3 weeks in length) about teaching and preaching on line 🙂

  1. Specific Extra Prep! My focus has been on reproducing the in-seat experience as closely as possible but even that focus requires some intentional extra effort including Audio/Visual tests offered by Zoom. I have found my computer resets between Zoom gatherings so it needs to be tested before every online experience. Experiment with the angle of the video camera depending on your context and audience. I have found it useful to tape my sermons on my phone in addition to recording the Zoom meeting to make sharing and storing easier. I do recon=mend saving the Zoom meeting to “the cloud”  because Zoom sends a link shortly after the meetings completion.
  2. Challenge of the Deadening Effect of the Camera  The camera deadens so levels of passion in a face to face context appear apathetic and boring when viewed on a computer screen so it is important to ramp up the intensity in at last four areas; 1) your voice variation of pitch, intonation and rate all need to be increased 2) Volume variation is critical, louder crescendos and quieter whispers are necessary for effective communication. 3)  Face. Your facial expressions need to be as exaggerated as  as you can manage comfortable and a little more is always better than a little less. 4) Gestures While always important in preaching gestures experienced through a lens needs increased numbers and energy to be effective.
  3. Screen Sharing is a great positive, utilizing the screen aspect of Zoom is seamless and can be done by oneself , Just be sure to enable the “Share Computer Sound” if you are using video. Speaking of video if using a video from YouTube be sure to convert it to an MP4 file through either http://www.flz.com or http://www.keepvideo.com. These are both free or just Google converting YouTube to down loads. In-bedding these videos in to power point is easy using the “insert video” tab under the “Insert” drop down menu option.
  4. Things working against you! It is hard to emphasize the importance of looking in to the camera because it is the equivalent of making eye contact while communicating in person. A single screen is very difficult to manage if you are doing more than just speaking into the camera for the entirety of your  teaching/preaching time. I recommend a second screen to “stage” slides, videos, quotes, illustrations or any thing else you might like to share the hook up is accomplished through a basic HDMI cord from your computer to the second monitor and then adjusting the “display” settings in the Control panel of your operation system.
  5. Things to Consider: To sit or to stand? Both options are supported using most computer video options. Sitting can keep you in arms reach of the computer  cursor and keep your head in a specific location relative to the camera. It prevents moving around which can be important if you don’t want people to see you moving off their screens. Integrated in-computer Microphones are also designed to sound their best when spoken into from a fairly close distance.  Standing can be effective if your camera can be set at the correct height in advance and you can refrain from moving around too much. Headsets with microphones can help with sound but not camera angle. Zoom allows many computers with powerful enough processing capabilities to have a wide variety of “Backgrounds”, some less distracting some down right funny. Experiment between gatherings to see what works for your system. A final question involved your use of the “mute” function for the group. I keep people muted because of the background noise and feedback that accompanies multiple open mics. There is also a distinct “lag” so singing with everyone’s mic on is very distracting but keeping the worship leader’s or preachers  mic on exclusive and allowing each participant to listen or participate while muted works well.  Be sure to utilize the “Zoom Chat feature for Prayer requests and announcements and the breakout room feature for needed change of pace experiences.                                                                                                                                   I am still trying, failing, learning, and succeeding with new elements of this technology every day. Blessings as you become more effective in using this technology to present the timeless truths of the Gospel in this most interesting time we are all living in together!